Thursday, May 7, 2009


Late last week, county and school officials were expressing cautious optimism that the swine flu problem in Starr County was slowly showing improvement after the decision was made to close Rio Grande City CISD schools through at least Monday, May 4.

On Monday morning, May 4, however, it was announced that all RGCCISD schools would remain closed through Friday, based on the recommendation made by Starr County Health Authority Dr. Jose Vasquez. Students are expected to report to school on Monday, May 11. All RGCCISD personnel are asked to report to work on Friday, May 8.

RGCCISD Board President Basilio D. Villarreal, Jr. told the Rio Grande Herald on Monday afternoon, “They’re asking us to stay closed. They’re testing some old cases of which some may be positive. It is the call of the Health Department. There is an increase in flu symptoms over the past week.”

Villarreal indicated that a letter signed by County Judge Eloy Vera and Health Authority Dr. Jose Vasquez requested that RGCCISD schools remain closed through Friday, May 8.

Villarreal added, “We’re talking with the Commissioner of TEA to see where we’ll go involving TAKS testing and whether the lost time needs to be made up.”

On Monday afternoon, RGCCISD Superintendent Roel Gonzalez declared, “There are some new developments. We’re waiting for some back cases. We are expecting to reopen to students on Monday, May 11.”

On Tuesday afternoon, April 28, Rio Grande City CISD officials, in conjunction with county officials and the Starr County Health Authority, made the decision to close all 14 Rio Grande City CISD schools through Friday, May 1. The decision was later made to extend the closure of schools through Monday, May 4. Officials also decided to close all RGCCISD administrative offices on Thursday, Friday and Monday.

The decision was made because of two confirmed cases of swine flu with sixth grade boys at Veterans Middle School. As of Monday, May 4, there were no additional confirmed cases in Starr County.

On April 28, officials indicated that a large number of Type A non-swine flu influenza cases in RGCCISD schools also contributed to the closure decision. On April 28, there were more than 1800 absences out of a total enrollment of over 10,200 students in RGCCISD schools.

On Friday, May 1, Judge Vera told The Rio Grande Herald, “The swine flu situation is looking considerably better. There have been no more confirmed cases. The two individuals diagnosed with swine flu are doing very well. They were never in serious danger. We expect to re-evaluate the situation on Monday.”

RGCCISD Superintendent Gonzalez stated Friday afternoon, “We’ll re-evaluate the situation on Monday. The health authority has requested that schools remain closed on Monday. We are feeling more positive and optimistic about the situation.”

Judge Vera emphasized, “This is something to be concerned about, but people should not be alarmed. We’re merely trying to stop it from spreading.”

Vera noted, “There was a lot of absenteeism (in RGCCISD schools) because of regular flu and fear of what was happening.”

The closure of RGCCISD schools was announced at a press conference at the Courthouse Annex late on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 28.

The officials stated, “The Starr County Judge, the Starr County Health Authority, and the Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District and Administration, after extensive discussion with TDH officials at Region 11, as well as at the state level, all agree that it’s in the best interest of our community to cancel all activities in the Rio Grande City CISD until Friday, May 1, 2009. At that time we will re-evaluate the situation and take further action as needed. This decision has been taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our children and of our citizens. By taking this action we hope to prevent the spread of this disease.”

The officials added, “The reason we choose for the RGCCISD schools to cancel all activities is the fact that children within the same families attend different schools in the district. In this manner we are trying to prevent the transmission of the virus from one school to the other. We have been in close contact with all the other school districts within the county and up to now, we do not have any evidence of disease in their schools.”

Starr County Health Authority Dr. Jose Vasquez stated at the news conference, “We do not have confirmation (at this time) of the two cases. We’re seeing more cases of Type A influenza in our clinics. We feel this step is the best for the children. We have consulted with TDH; they agree that this is the right step to take.”

Judge Vera declared, “At this point, there is no confirmation of the disease in the other two school districts.” Vasquez indicated, “We are expecting classes (in the RGCCISD) to be closed on Friday.”

RGCCISD Superintendent Gonzalez explained, “We did have TAKS testing today; we haven’t set a date to make up the testing. We will try to find a new window to complete the testing.”

“We had a very high absentee rate,” stressed the superintendent. “We had a number of kids who were sick at school today. We had more than 1800 absent today out of a total enrollment of over 10,000. The important thing is for everybody to heal. I feel comfortable that we did the right thing. We are relying on the professionalism and experience of our doctors.”

Gonzalez added, “Athletic events are continuing. We will have skeleton crews working in the schools the rest of this week. When children as young as third graders are wearing masks, that is a tough situation.”

Vasquez noted, “We’re hoping to get the results of the two potential cases tomorrow or the day after.” Gonzalez emphasized, “Whether these two cases are positive, we have a lot of sick children.”

Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben O. Villarreal commented, “Life within the city will continue as normal. We’re trying to do what’s best for our families.”

“Parents are nervous; they’re hesitant and concerned and for good reason,” insisted Gonzalez. “We don’t know where everything is coming from. We will clean and disinfect the schools to get things in good shape.”

Mayor Villarreal told media representatives, “We need your assistance to get the right information out.” RGCCISD Board President Basilio D. Villarreal, Jr. contended, “If we’re going to err, it should be on the side of safety.”

Gonzalez declared, “Our peak enrollment is 10,214. Normally, we have a couple of hundred absences (per day). A lot of the kids were not in the right frame of mind for testing.”

As of Sunday morning, May 3, there were 39 confirmed cases in Texas and over 160 cases nationwide. In most swine flu cases, the symptoms and effects were mild or moderate.

As of Monday morning, over 290,000 Texas students were out of school due to closures of entire school districts or individual schools. Since Thursday, April 30, the Weslaco, Brownsville, San Benito, and Harlingen school districts were closed entirely due to possible swine flu cases.

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