By Joe Beck
Shenandoah County Public Schools will begin their holiday break a day early Friday in response to an outbreak of flu that officials say has cut student attendance and also sickened many adults.
"We've had illnesses, our attendance has dropped down below 90 percent in the last three days," Superintendent B. Keith Rowland said Thursday.
"I'm trying to fight it off, too," Rowland added.
Rowland said the decision to cancel classes Friday was based strictly on concern about spreading the flu, but he acknowledged that some of the decrease in attendance might also be linked to rising concerns about school security following two incidents at local schools this week.
A week has passed since a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. shocked the nation by killing 26 students and teachers. Since then, law enforcement officials have encountered two men they believe were acting suspiciously at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg and neighboring Signal Knob Middle School.
The man at Sandy Hook was charged with disorderly conduct. Authorities accused Christopher Gerrit Johnson, 33, of Strasburg of entering the school with a 2-by-4 marked with the words "high powered rifle."
The man at Signal Knob was questioned by deputies and released Thursday.
Rowland said school attendance throughout Shenandoah County was running at about 90 percent Wednesday, but dropped to 83 percent Thursday.
Asked if the recent incidents may have contributed to the decrease, Rowland replied, "I wouldn't doubt that at all. "People are uneasy."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org