I've been especially grumpy at work lately, so grumpy that I thought I wouldn't even mind a school-shuttering case of the swine flu.
But that was before I heard the sad news about Mitchell Weiner, the assistant principal at IS 238 who died from complications of the H1N1 virus.
My school, like everyone else's, was abuzz today with rumors about school closures, flu hotlines, and global pandemics. Convinced that the entire city was on the brink of shutting down, we had the radio tuned to 1010 WINS and our computer reloading CNN.com. (The Department of Education website, which claims that "the latest official information will always be available here," was about 24 hours behind schedule with the promised updates...ah, DOE, what else is new?)
Meanwhile, our principal, parent coordinator and UFT rep spent the entire morning personally calling the home of every child who was absent, armed with a checklist that allowed them to interrogate parents about their child's symptoms.
Now, even though fourteen public schools are closed, only one -- IS 238, where Mitchell Weiner was the assistant principal -- has confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus. The other schools have only reported higher than usual absences, which I personally think is the result of the nature of this kind of epidemic: Parents are being more cautious and keeping their children home from school, which causes the school to record higher than usual absences, which stirs up fears of possible contagion, which causes the school to close.
That's the logical way to look at it...but I also understand how terribly scary and sad it must be to be a junior high school student who loses a beloved assistant principal to an unfamiliar virus, and how vulnerable our young children -- many of whom suffer from asthma and allergies and other "underlying medical conditions" -- are. And part of me feels that this "monitor and see" approach -- three schools today, four schools tomorrow, forty schools on the "watch list," all schools reporting to a "flu hotline" -- creates more panic -- mightn't it be more prudent just to shut us all down as a precautionary measure? So what if it means giving in to public fears or acceding to public concerns? (...says the teacher who could really, really use a week or so off from school.) It's like the snow day when the city waited until 6 am to close the schools, only the snow is the H1N1 virus and 6 am is...death.
And even though I'm conflicted, my mind keeps going round back to Mitchell Weiner, who may or may not have had "underlying medical conditions" that contributed to his death but who in all probability would still be alive had he not contracted the H1N1 virus. I'm sure that in the months to come, there will be a lot of second-guessing and questioning whether the city and the DOE could have or should have done more to keep him alive.