Proms, dates take hits from swine flu

Workers clean a classroom in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday as schools were closed because of swine flu.
Academics, graduations, interscholastic sports and even first dates are on hold for students around the country as schools and parents take swine flu precautions.

Parents are coping with creativity, humor and hope. “Looks like a long week with the kids and activities! Let the games begin. So I guess that means I should get a vacation, too” That’s what one mom wrote on Mom2Mom, a popular Texas blog. Its author is Cynthia Wahl Cunningham, who was laid off recently from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It is, in a way, a blessing in disguise, I’m finding, because a lot of parents are telling me that they had been laid off and were going to be at home anyway,” said Cunningham. “But there is definitely concern for the spread of the flu and most parents don’t feel like [school officials] are overreacting.” “When you hear about middle schools being scrubbed down, you think, ‘Wow those places are just so gross so at least we got something out of this!’ ” Cunningham’s 14-year-old son was looking forward to a first date on Friday at the movies, she said with a motherly groan of sympathy. “I was going to take him, but now, I don’t know. … I want to, but you have these warnings” against kids interacting for fear of passing the virus. The Fort Worth district’s phone tree system was working to notify families about the closure Thursday, according to the CNN’s Dallas affiliates. The message said: “We will have our principals and administrators available at every school, in the morning, in the event this message does not get out.” Fort Worth schools will be closed at least until May 12, authorities said, announcing that one student was confirmed to have swine flu. The closure affects about 80,000 students. The Department of Education said Thursday that almost 300 schools were closed nationwide. Houston mother Ryan Bell received school closing calls at midnight and again at 5:30 Thursday morning. “I don’t want my daughter to get sick, but I’m worried about work,” she said. “As a parent who works full time, you count on school to take care of your children.” Bell works for a small, private company and her boss told her she could take Thursday off. On Friday, she will likely have to start leaving her elementary-age daughter with friends and family. “I’m afraid of it being really serious on the one hand and I also think, ‘Are we taking this too seriously and blowing this out of proportion’ It makes me want to go up to a farm house and stay there for a few weeks until this passes over.” Watch a question and answer session on swine flu »

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Marguerite Copel, the director of communications for Texas company Dean Foods, is anticipating having to keep her 14-year-old twin daughters home on Friday. The teens already had to cope with a theater event canceled because of concerns over the illness. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the canceling of sports activities in this area, too And have you heard something about how we like our high school sports in Texas” she said. Texas school officials have postponed all interscholastic sports until at least May 11. Alabama has taken a similar step, stopping competitions until at least Tuesday. In Montgomery County, Maryland, 1,250-student Rockville High School joined the closed list Friday when state health authorities closed it until further notice because of a suspected swine flu case. There, too, athletics were taking a big hit, Assistant Principal Dyan Gomez said. Rockville’s teams were even banned from traveling to other schools to compete this weekend, she said. The National Capitol Area Scottish Festival, hosted by Rockville’s Pipe Band and scheduled for Saturday at the school, was in jeopardy, Gomez said. With kids affected directly, rumors are spreading among them. In the past few days, Copel and her husband tried to talk to their daughters to dispel swine flu rumors circulating on text messages the girls have received. “One of them came home and said, ‘I’m really scared,’ ” Copel recounted. “My job is to get the facts out to 26,000 employees around the country, so I’d like to think I have information that I can bring back to my family. We’re already a pretty hand-washing family and we are very calm about any of these things, so I think we’re okay.” Andy Bogle, the president of Equipment & Technical Services in Fort Worth was busy preparing his 15 employees with a refreshing course about hand washing and telling them to stay home if they feel ill. According to the Houston Chronicle, memos and e-mails are being circulated and meetings are being held with employees about the swine flu, how to avoid it and what to do if they think they’ve caught it. Watch how a sneeze can spread disease » For some students, the closures mean more than just concerns about their health or missing out on sporting events. Cisco Junior College in West Central Texas is canceling Friday graduation ceremonies. Students will get their diplomas by mail, the college said. “We understand that many will be disappointed by our decision,” college President Colleen Smith said in a statement. “However, we believe that it is more important to protect our students, employees and families than to proceed with graduation ceremonies at this time.” At least four schools have canceled their proms this weekend, including Park City High School in Park City, Utah, according to CNN affiliate KSL-TV.

Senior Kelly McGuire, who was getting ready for the prom on Saturday, is making last minute changes because of the rescheduling. “That’s a bummer, because it means we have to try to cancel our limo,” McGuire told KSL-TV. “All cancellations have to be a week in advance. I have to cancel my tux, my corsage. It’s going to be hectic.”