Due to an alarming decline in attendance rates because of illness, the Monroe County School System was forced to close Thursday and Friday. The Sweetwater City School System stayed open on Thursday, but the attendance rate continued to drop, leading to their schools closing on Friday.

Monroe County Director of Schools Tim Blankenship said the school system had been monitoring attendance rates closely while also taking preventative measures.

“We have been closely monitoring our absenteeism over the past week due to an increase in illnesses, including flu, strep and stomach virus. Despite increased efforts by our staff to sanitize classrooms, we have seen a dramatic increase in student and staff absentee rates over the last several days,” he said.

From Monday, Feb. 4 to Wednesday, Feb. 6, Blankenship said the system-wide absenteeism rate increased from 11 percent to 15.15 percent, which is well below the 95 percent or better attendance rate schools hope to have. On Monday, 562 were absent. That number climbed to 605 on Tuesday before peaking at 784 on Wednesday morning.

In addition, 53 staff absences were recorded on Wednesday.

Because of this, Blankenship said he felt closing schools on Thursday and Friday would give students and faculty members a chance to recover properly and extra time for schools to be sanitized.

No activities were allowed to be held in the county school system’s buildings from Thursday through Sunday.

Sickness hit the Monroe County School System harder than the Sweetwater City School System at first, according to Director of Schools Rodney Boruff. Sweetwater City Schools remained open on Thursday.

“We have been averaging about normal (attendance), around 95 percent,” Boruff said on Wednesday.

But the attendance numbers in the Sweetwater City School System declined significantly on Thursday. Boruff then announced the decision on Thursday afternoon to cancel Friday classes.

With the school closures, the Monroe County School System will have five built-in days remaining that can be used for weather/illness, in addition to three remaining stockpiled days.

Students and teachers in the Monroe County School System and Sweetwater City Schools will return to school on Monday, Feb. 11.

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