Arkansas school districts close for mumps, flu-like illnesses

An Arkansas school district canceled classes Tuesday due to a suspected case of mumps and at least one other district is closed because of the spread of “flu-like” and other similar illnesses, officials said.

The Cossatot School District, located in Polk County, canceled classes and sporting events for the remainder of the week after health officials suspected one of its employees of having mumps, Superintendent Jim Tankersley said.

The Polk County Health Department notified the district Tuesday morning that a bus driver, who also works as a classroom aide, may have contracted the disease, Tankersley said. According to the superintendent, doctors will conduct additional tests on the employee later in the day.

Although the driver had not officially been diagnosed, the district decided action was necessary to minimize potential damage, Tankersley said. In schools, where students are often in close quarters, the disease could quickly spread, traveling “across one classroom to another, child to child,” he said.

“They ride the bus home, they’re with other kids all day long, and to go home and stick it to their family,” Tankersley said. “It’s a big deal, really.”

Mumps is an infectious disease best known for causing painful, swollen salivary glands, according to the Arkansas Department of Health website. Typically, these symptoms show up as puffy cheeks and swollen jaws.

Though mumps usually has only a mild impact on children, the department said adults may experience the disease more severely, facing additional complications.

According to health department spokeswoman Meg Mirivel, 11 mumps cases have been confirmed in Arkansas so far in 2019. The illness at Cossatot School District is not one of the confirmed mumps cases.

Widespread reports of flu-like symptoms have also been reported by school districts in Arkansas.

According to Tankersley, officials with the Cossatot School District were already considering canceling classes due to similar illnesses before the mumps scare.

In Columbia County, the Magnolia School District announced Monday that its classes would be canceled for the remainder of the week, though athletic and other activities would continue as scheduled.

“About 25 percent of our students were out by this afternoon due to illness,” Superintendent John Ward said in an address to the school board on Monday. “We had 35 teachers out — not including bus drivers and other staff.” The Osceola School District in Mississippi County resumed classes Monday after closing Friday as a result of illness, according to a statement by the district.

According to district officials, both Cossatot and Magnolia schools are on spring break next week and will use AMI (Alternative Methods of Instruction) days to make up for the missed days.

Once students return to school they will receive homework packets to complete for each day missed, the Magnolia School District said in a statement.

Information for this article was contributed by J.D. Bailey of the Magnolia Banner-News.



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