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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Queens School Assistant Principle Deathly Ill with SWINE FLU Virus, Wife Blames School for Delay in Closing

The city shut down three more schools because of swine flu Friday as the wife of a deathly ill assistant principal ripped officials for keeping his school open too long.

"I'm outraged, I'm outraged," Bonnie Wiener told the Daily News outside the hospital where her husband, Mitchell Wiener, is unconscious and on a ventilator.

"They can close a school because of snow but not because of swine flu, which is deadly and can kill you?"

"You can make up a day of school but you can't make up a life," she added.

Intermediate School 238 in Queens, where both Wieners work, opened Monday despite tests last weekend that confirmed the virus in a number of kids.

Two days later, the delirious administrator - his fever spiking - was admitted to Flushing Hospital.

The 55-year-old veteran educator's condition improved Friday, though he was still critically ill. His family was forced to don full-body protective suits at his bedside.

The city shut down IS 238 in Hollis and two other Queens schools - Intermediate School 5 in Elmhurst and Public School 16 in Corona - on Thursday.

Three more - Junior High School 74 in Bayside, Public School 107 in Flushing and Intermediate School 318 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn - were closed Friday. All will stay shut through next Friday.

More schools could close before Monday, said teachers union president Randi Weingarten. Her staff received reports from 21 schools - including the three closed Friday - of a high number of student absences.

Wiener's wife questioned why officials are now acting so quickly.

"What makes me angry is why are they closing schools with unconfirmed cases now when we had a confirmed case and they made us stay open. Why has Mr. Bloomberg flipped his mind?" Bonnie Wiener said.

A handful of students leaving the Williamsburg school wore face masks Friday. Nearly 300 of the 1,571 students were absent, and the school had sent home pregnant teachers, too.

Debbie Strassberg, PTA president at JHS 74, pulled her son out of eighth grade Friday morning as the number of sick kids multiplied. One out of four students at the school of 1,000 was absent.

"I think the Department of Education and Health Department dragged their heels on this," Strassberg said.

City Councilman Eric Gioia shared her worries.

"I'm concerned the closing of schools is happening too slowly," he said. "When there's a doubling of absences in a day, that's cause for closing in just a few hours."

At Wiener's school, parents and students said a letter sent by the school nearly two weeks ago assured them the virus posed little threat.

"My principal tried to close the school," said Bonnie Wiener, who teaches at IS 238. "The Board of Health told him he was starting a panic."

By last Sunday night, the city had confirmed the presence of swine flu at the school, but it opened the next day. By Tuesday, the nurse's office was flooded with kids complaining of fevers and flulike symptoms. The student sickout rate eventually hit 15%.

"When the kids started getting sick, they should have looked into that," said Yazmeen Mustafa, whose daughter missed two days with a bug. "My daughter is never sick."

City officials defended their actions.

"I'm sure you could argue, and many will or have, that we should have shut this school sooner," Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said of IS 238.

Mayor Bloomberg said it was too easy to second-guess the decision. "If you close the school, it doesn't mean people aren't going to get sick," Bloomberg said. "Nobody's going to go home and just stay in their room."

Friday night, Corrections union President Norman Seabrook asked the Department of Correction to close a Rikers facility because an inmate has swine flu.


Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/05/15/2009-05-15_queens_assistant_principals_other_health_issues_preclude_treatmentswine_flu_cond.html#ixzz0FfpF5DRa&B

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