BRISTOL, Va. — After a spike in students, staff and teachers calling out sick, Bristol Virginia Public Schools will be closed Friday for a deep cleaning of facilities.

“We will use this time to deep clean and sanitize our facilities and buses,” Superintendent Keith Perrigan wrote on Twitter early this afternoon.

High absence rates exceeding 20% for both students and staff at Stonewall Jackson Elementary School today led to the decision, Perrigan told the Bristol Herald Courier. He said absence rates are often in the range of 5% to 9%. A shortage of substitute teachers further compounded the challenge of handling staff absences, he added.

“Really it’s not one particular illness,” he said. District-wide, he said people have reported flu, common colds, strep and stomach bugs.

Taking Friday off will allow for extra cleaning, help slow the spread of germs and give people a day to focus on being healthy, Perrigan said.

Deep cleaning procedures include more heavy-duty sanitation supplies and a particular focus on “high touch areas” like stair handrails, door knobs and water fountain buttons. Perrigan said overtime has been approved for custodial staff in case cleaning efforts extend into the weekend.

Schools had already stepped up some of their disinfect efforts last semester, Perrigan said.

“We started well before Christmas with the high touch sanitation, the extra cleaning, cleaning our buses – we’ve been doing that already and I think that’s been one of the reasons our attendance rates have held pretty steady up to this point,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Bristol, Virginia schools have cancelled classes to disinfect schools, but this is the first such closure this school year.

Although the district aims for high attendance rates, Perrigan said he would generally encourage parents to err on the side of caution and keep children home from school if they are sick.

“We want all of our students to be as healthy as they can,” he said.

tdodson@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2567 | Twitter: @Tim_Dodson

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