School half empty amid swine flu scare

Nine-year-old Lily Closson said there are benefits to going to a school deserted by more than half of its students.

"I get more attention from my teacher," Lily said outside Marion Earl Elementary School, where four confirmed cases of H1N1, or swine flu, have been documented.

The year-round school serves 614 students, but there were 322 excused absences Thursday.

Lily, a third-grader, went to class with nine other students instead of the usual 17 classmates Thursday. Lunchtime was far less noisy with only 27 students in the cafeteria, she said.

The number of absences has more than tripled since Monday when there were 101. Many parents, however, have told school officials that their children are not sick. They're just keeping them home as a health precaution.

Because the swine flu cases have been mild, officials with the school district and the Southern Nevada Health District said they are not compelled to close the school.

They are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that state that closing a school "is not advised unless there is a magnitude of faculty or student absenteeism that interferes with the school's ability to function."

Despite the shrinking attendance, school officials would not say at which point they would close the school at 6650 W. Reno Ave., near Torrey Pines Drive and Tropicana Avenue.

"There's no magic number or formula," said David Roddy, a spokesman for the Clark County School District.

"It's something we evaluate every day."

Susan Closson, Lily's mom, said she will continue to send her daughter to Earl as long as she's feeling fine.

"She hasn't gotten sick yet. The school has been very hygienic," Closson said. "They did a good job of disinfecting it."

The outbreak appears to be limited to Earl, school officials said. Most schools, including all middle and high schools, are closed for the summer.

With many of her classmates at home, Lily acknowledged she is a little envious.

"She's ready for a summer break," her mother said.

Contact reporter James Haug at or 702-374-7917.