Students didn’t wait for break
BY LINDLEY ESTES
It may just have been because it was the last school day before winter break, but some local school officials believe the high absentee numbers Friday are the result of the apocalyptic rumors of late.
For example, 850 of about 1,400 students of King George High School stayed away. Forty-four percent of students at Stafford High School and 42 percent of students at North Stafford High School did not attend on Friday compared to 10 percent at both schools on Thursday.
Stafford’s middle schools experienced absentee rates of 20 to 30 percent. Rates at elementary schools in the county were lower. Margaret Brent Elementary School had a 5 percent absentee rate, lower than Thursday, when 9 percent of its students were out with a flu outbreak.
In Spotsylvania, 30 percent of all students were absent and the high schools in the county experienced a 45 percent absentee rate.
The middle schools had 36 percent out and elementary schools had 19 percent absent.
North Stafford High Principal Thomas Nichols said no parents called to say their children were staying home for safety reasons.
“I’m sure there are some at home for that reason,” said Valerie Cottongim, spokeswoman for Stafford schools. “But we really can’t tell how much is attributable to that.”
Each of the school systems sent notes home to parents to notify them of the rumors of violence.
The rumors were apparently prompted by the end of the Mayan calendar, which some interpreted as signifying the end of the world.
In the King George message to parents, superintendent Robert Benson said, “After two weeks of investigation [by the school and local Sheriff’s office], There has been no information discovered that lends any credibility to the allegation. I want to assure our entire community that we have and will continue to take any threat to our students’ and staffs’ safety seriously and pursue those responsible for initiating and perpetuating such a disturbing claim.”
King George High School Principal Cliff Conway said it is normal for there to be large numbers of absent students on half days and before breaks, but never this many.
He said it was possible that parents kept students home because of the rumors, but “the kids that are here have been in great spirits and are getting a lot done.”
“I wasn’t here when King George only had about 600 kids, but I guess this is what that felt like,” he said.
“We do have a higher than normal absentee rate,” said spokeswoman Stafford County’s Cottongim said many students take off the day before winter break, but she added that because of the rumors “some of the high-schoolers in particular are taking the opportunity for a day off.”
Spotsylvania schools spokeswoman Rene Daniels also said their absentees could be due to a number of factors, including illness and family travel plans, since it is the last day before break.
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976