As the scent of bleach fills the air at Ranger Elementary/Middle School on Friday morning, custodian Brad Beckner wipes down each desk as students recover from illnesses.

SCOUTING AROUND: Illnesses close Ranger, Hiwassee Dam schools

Students in the western end of the county got a three-day weekend, but not all were able to enjoy it. All Hiwassee Dam schools and Ranger Elementary/Middle School were closed Friday because of the number of students sick, mainly with flu symptoms.

“What we have been doing for the past couple of weeks is monitoring the number of students absent,” said Kim Gibson, assistant superintendent of Cherokee County Schools. “We saw an increase in the lower end of the county.”

In Hiwassee Dam, 47 of 368 total students in elementary, middle and high schools were sick. At Ranger, 33 of 309 students , or 11 percent, were out sick. In contrast, Gibson said Andrews’ schools had only a few students ill.

Gibson said when the number of sick students gets past 10 percent of the student body, the district starts looking at closing the school. The state does not provide any guidance on when schools should close for absences.

All middle school sports for Hiwassee Dam and Ranger also were canceled for the weekend.

Starting Friday morning, the schools were thoroughly cleaned to help prevent the spread of illnesses. Gibson said the district is encouraging parents at all schools to keep children home if they are sick.

The previous week, The Learning Center charter school in Murphy also closed for sickness of students and staff. Director Mary Jo Dyer said there was no flu on campus, but stomach virus, upper respiratory and pinkeye illnesses were all going around.

“We just had a combination of sick students, sick staff and sick subs,” she said, adding that she had a few teachers who should have stayed home working because there wasn’t enough coverage.

The Learning Center was closed Feb. 17-21, using that long weekend for the charter’s winter break instead of the planned break from Feb. 23-27. Dyer said while she had 45 of 191 students (24 percent) and 7 of 38 staff (18 percent) sick, being able to move the winter break made it easier to make the decision to close the school to help everyone recover.

At the recommendation of the Cherokee County Health Department, the school did a deep-cleaning of every surface with a 1:10 ratio of bleach to help prevent further illness.

“We have had some slight decrease of sickness,” Dyer said of the effectiveness of the break and cleaning. Some students didn’t return because they got the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu is widespread in North Carolina and most of the country. There have been a total of 44 flu deaths in the state since flu season began in October, with 10 new flu deaths from Feb. 12-18.

Flu symptoms include a high fever and feeling feverish, a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills, fatigue and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

The CDC recommends a flu vaccination for anyone ages 6 months or older. The vaccination has reduced a person’s risk of getting sick or having to see a doctor by 48 percent, the CDC estimated. It also is recommended to wash hands frequently, cough or sneeze into tissues and stay home when feeling sick.

Wedding expo Saturday

Planning a wedding? The annual Wedding Expo is returning to the historic Hackney Warehouse in downtown Murphy from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

There will be more than 30 wedding and event vendors on site to show brides what they have to offer. It will be a one-stop shop of everything from food to music to hair and makeup for the special day.

Some vendors will have giveaways, and there will be drawings throughout the day for prizes.

Tickets are $10 per person, and are available at the door or throughout the week at the Hackney’s office. Children ages 12 and younger are free. For details, call 837-8376.

Samantha Sinclair is Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email,; or by leaving a message at 837-5122.