Immaculate Conception School in Towson was closed today, and will remain closed Friday, as a number of students and teachers have become ill, according to messages sent to parents.
A woman who answered the door at the 500-plus student private school Thursday morning confirmed the school was closed for the day but referred questions to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which oversees Catholic schools in the area. The school offers classes from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
A spokesman for the archdiocese and other school officials have not replied to multiple calls over two days seeking additional information and comment.
Lucia Donatelli, the chief of the Baltimore County Department of Health's Bureau of Prevention, Protection and Preparedness, said there has been an increase in flu and gastrointestinal illness in the county, based on calls the health department has received from the public.
Donatelli said Thursday afternoon that the county interacted with the school through a health department nurse liaison who keeps in touch with private schools about health issues.
The public-health nurse, who is liaison to Immaculate Conception, learned of the illness situation at the school "through the grapevine," Donatelli said, and provided information on flu and gastrointestinal illness prevention, as well as information on how to track illness at the school and a sample letter on how to inform parents about what is happening.
That was the extent of interaction, Donatelli said. The school never defined the problem to the health department, nor was the health department aware of a closure, Donatelli said.
In a letter to Immaculate Conception parents, which was forwarded to the Towson Times, Principal Madeline Meaney said the school has been hit hard by cold and flu.
"In order to give people time to fully heal and recover so that the illness is not further spread, Immaculate Conception School will be closed tomorrow and Friday, February 16th and 17th," Meaney said in the email letter.
The letter said the decision to close was not made lightly or in isolation.
"After careful consideration and much discussion with our nurses, the Health Department, Fr. Joe, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore it has been decided that this would be the most prudent action," the message states. "While we are closed, we will have a professional cleaning company here to disinfect the building. We do understand that this action may cause an inconvenience for many of you; but we must move forward with this measure in order to protect the community."
The email also lists illness symptoms as well as guidelines for when students can return to school.
A spokesman for the state's health department, Christopher Garrett, provided some general tips for cold and flu season, such as encouraging good hand hygiene and contacting a doctor when flu symptoms appear.
Influenza symptoms include a fever of more than 100 degrees, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, cough, sore throat, chills, fatigue, sore throat and a stuffy or runny nose, according to the health department.
Mychael Dickerson, a spokesman for Baltimore County Public Schools, said the public school system has not had a large number of absences recently.
This story will be updated.