Illness forces Sumner closure

SULLIVAN — Sumner Memorial High School students had a surprise three-day weekend after school closed unexpectedly on Monday.

Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) officials decided to cancel classes at the school on March 18 after 12 out of 34 staff members called in sick.

“We were only able to find two substitutes,” said RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman.

The shortfall of 10 staff members would have caused safety and learning to be “compromised” because the school would not have had enough adults to supervise classrooms, he said.

When the school is short by one or two substitutes, it’s possible to “patch things together” by combining classes, but that could not be done with almost a third of the staff out.

Eastman said he did not know whether all of the affected staff members were teachers.

He didn’t have a diagnosis for the reported illnesses but said that it sounded like the flu from the way the symptoms were described.

“It wasn’t a complete surprise,” said Eastman, adding that although he didn’t have specific numbers, many of the school’s approximately 230 students had been out sick recently.

“We have had our fair share of the flu,” he said. However, the numbers of students out sick is not unusual for this time of year.

Fortunately, he said, the affected staff members notified the school on Sunday night, allowing everyone a little time to plan.

“We were able to call [school] off on Sunday,” he said.

An email went out to parents shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday, saying, “There will be no school at Sumner Memorial High School tomorrow, March 18. All other schools are in session.”

Eastman said the school also notified parents via robo-calls. A notice was placed on the school website saying school was closed “due to the extremely high number of staff at SMHS who are experiencing illness … and the low number of available substitutes.”

Eastman confirmed Tuesday that no other district schools had been affected and that Sumner had reopened that day. Eight staff members were still out sick Tuesday but officials were able to find six substitutes.

Eastman, who has worked for the school district in some capacity for about 30 years, said he believes this is a first.

“I don’t remember having to cancel school because of staff illness,” he said.

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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