Fountain Lake School District in Hot Springs has canceled classes for the second time in two weeks because of an unusually high number of student absences due to illness.
Classes were canceled Thursday and Friday and will not resume until March 25, the Monday following spring break.
Students will be utilizing Alternative Methods of Instruction, or AMI, and Google classrooms.
"It is our hope that this extended period of separation will end this terrible bout of illness that has substantially impacted our ability to effectively have class. We want everyone well and eager to have a strong finish after spring break," Stephen Campbell, the school's director of instructional services and federal programs coordinator, said Thursday.
Over 200 students were absent on Wednesday.
By the end of the day Wednesday, Campbell said administration knew that almost 25 staff members would be missing Thursday due to their own illness or having sick children.
The district was also closed on March 1 for illnesses, primarily streptococcal pharyngitis, or strep throat, and the flu.
The Cossatot School District and Magnolia School District were closed this week due to illness, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously reported.
According to the most recent weekly flu report from the state Department of Health, since Sept. 30, 2018, over 26,000 positive influenza tests have been reported to the agency's online database by health care providers. For the week that ended last Saturday, 68 counties reported influenza cases. The majority of reports came from Pulaski, Sebastian, Lonoke, White, Washington, Faulkner, Benton, Garland, Clark, Saline, Randolph, Logan, and Lawrence counties.
The average school absenteeism rate last week was 6.9 percent among public schools. As of Tuesday, the state Department of Health was aware that 23 schools closed briefly due to the flu.
Ten counties, including Garland County, have had a 10 percent or higher increase in student absenteeism rate from the week ending last Saturday.
The district's previous closing saw a concentration of absences in the elementary school, but that was not the case this time, Campbell said.
"The illnesses are pretty evenly spread through all of our buildings at this time. We believe that the best opportunity for this to end is to stop the spread," he said.
The district plans to use disinfectant "foggers" to sanitize the buildings, desks, chairs, and all other surfaces of the schools this weekend. These efforts will be repeated the weekend before students return from spring break, March 23-24.
"We encourage our students to enjoy spring break, to rest and recuperate, and to come back ready to strongly finish the school year," said Campbell.