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Students back at NYC school after flu scare

Students were welcomed back to St. Francis Preparatory School on Monday as if they'd been on spring break, but they couldn't help but be reminded of the reason it was closed.
Swine Flu
A computer named "The Ugly" shows results from a test for identifying the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, at the New York City Public Health Laboratory in New York, Sunday, May 3, 2009. Seth Wenig / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Students streamed into St. Francis Preparatory School on Monday morning, happy to return after an outbreak of swine flu but wary of close contact, and some equipped with hand sanitizer in their backpacks.

Swine flu sickened perhaps as many as 1,000 people associated with the Queens high school, according to the city health department. The school had 45 confirmed cases.

“I’m feeling great now,” said Ivy Buchelli, 16, who said swine flu was confirmed as the reason she had a fever, chills and body aches. “After the long break, I’m glad to see everyone else and how they’re doing.”

“I’m just hoping the school’s clean,” she added.

Fellow junior Paulina Janowiec, 17, said she had swine flu.

“It’s a little nerve-racking, being back in school, knowing that there was a swine flu outbreak in school,” she said. “But it’s good to be back.”

Both girls kept up with homework through the school’s Web site.

Green signs on the school’s doors welcomed the students back and reminded them what schedule to follow.

The city has 73 confirmed cases of swine flu and six probable ones, said Thomas Frieden, health commissioner. Of those 79, three have no link to Mexico or St. Francis, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who welcomed the students back.

P.S. 177, a nearby public school that closed last week after some students came down with suspected swine flu, will remain closed until Wednesday, Bloomberg said.

Of St. Francis’ 2,700 students, 204 were out sick Monday, said Brother Leonard Conway, the school principal.

“Of the 204, the vast majority of calls were from parents who said, ’Just to be on the safe side I’m keeping them out for another day or two,”’ Conway said.

Some said they didn’t have the flu; a few said they were getting over something flu-like, Conway said. No teachers were out on Monday with swine flu, he said.

Conway said students who returned to school Monday “have a lot of work to do” and were “excited about doing it.” The students have Advanced Placement and regents exams coming up. To make up the lost classroom time, final exams will start June 16 — later than the scheduled June 11, 12 and 15 — and the same time the regents exam will take place, Conway said.

“I’m just delighted and thank God that we’re getting back to normal,” he said.

Even as St. Francis reopened, newly confirmed infections and school closures were reported around New York and in other states.

Health officials in Syracuse said Sunday that the city’s Ed Smith Elementary School would close for a week because of a probable case of swine flu involving a student with a connection to St. Francis.

The Deer Park Union Free School District on Long Island announced Saturday it was closing six of its schools until May 10 because three students probably have swine flu. The students don’t appear to have any connection to St. Francis and haven’t recently traveled to Mexico, where the swine flu may have originated, according to a county health commissioner.

The majority of the flu cases in the state have been connected to St. Francis, New York City health officials said. A group of students from the prep school fell ill after traveling to Mexico for spring break.

Brandon Gratta, 15, a freshman at St. Francis, came to school with a small bottle of hand sanitizer at the urging of his mother, a nurse. In addition, he said he planned to wash his hands more frequently, even if he doesn’t use the restroom, and especially before lunch.

Gratta, who was not sick and had no symptoms, said he would also heed his mother’s advice not to come in close contact with students who appear sick or have colds.

He wasn’t worried about being back because he said the school had flushed the air conditioning system and given the building a complete scrubdown, among other safety precautions.

Speaking through the school’s public address system, Bloomberg thanked the students for their patience, adding, “It’s always good to be back with your friends and back to studying.”

Meanwhile, New Mexico officials said several schools were being closed for at least a week after the state’s first swine flu case was confirmed. The New Mexico Activities Association also indefinitely suspended athletic and activity programs at participating schools across the state.

In Arizona, all 10 public schools in the border city of Nogales canceled classes this week after a student tested positive for swine flu.

Officials in several other states also announced plans to close schools where students were either confirmed or suspected to have swine flu.