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Friday classes canceled in Bridgewater-Emery due to illness

Bridgewater-Emery school officials canceled classes and all school activities for today following an outbreak of "extreme illness," according to the middle school and high school principal Chris Schultz.

In K-12, Schultz said Thursday started with about 53 absences, but grew to between 68 to 70 students by the end of the day. There are about 315 students enrolled K-12 at Bridgewater-Emery, she said.

"It comes on just like you can't believe it," she said. "It's hitting a range of kids."

She said about 31 of the 80 high school students were out sick by the end of the day Thursday, and estimated another 10 probably should have gone home but didn't.

Schultz said the rash of flu-like symptoms, including "lots of vomiting" and diarrhea, started to spread about a week and a half ago at the middle school, which is located in Bridgewater. But then she said she went to the high school, which is in Emery, and there were 26 students absent due to illness.

"I thought 'oh my goodness, what's going on?' " she said.

She said some of the teens joked about an outbreak of food poisoning, but when Schultz said she witnessed similar troubles resuming at Bridgewater's location, she ruled out any food-borne illness.

"Within five minutes, we had two middle school kids literally running out of the classroom, and they could make it as far as trash cans in the lunch room," she said. "It's just really coming on fast, and quite severe."

Even some parents and two of her "veteran" high school teachers have come down with the bug.

While not dramatizing the event, Schultz said in her 21 years in education, she has not seen a flu bug hit this many students so quickly.

"I don't remember numbers like this. Maybe 25 to 30 in K-12," she said. "Not in such a short period.

Based on both the numbers and the sudden onset of symptoms, which she said even high schoolers were being caught off guard by, led school officials to cancel activities.

"We hemmed and hawed at 5 o'clock about what the right thing to do was," she said. "Just based on the number, based on the fact that they're symptoms are coming on so fast ... We don't want anyone coming to school tomorrow because they want to play in a game or don't want to miss assignments."

"We're glad that they're dedicated, but sometimes they just need to stay home," she added.

The decision, which nixed a high schools girls' basketball game and some elementary school activities, has already garnered positive feedback from parents, she said. Schultz said she hopes a three-day weekend will allow students, teachers and parents to rest and recoup, and that classes will resume on Monday.

"We're really hoping that by Monday ... some of this has moved out of here," she said.