Attendance rates for the Barnesville Exempted Village School District were down to approximately 79 percent last week as schools across the country experienced what health care officials are calling the peak of the flu and H1N1 cases.

Superintendent Randy Lucas said the district's attendance is normally about 95 to 96 percent. He said those numbers began at 82 percent on Monday, Oct. 26, dipped to 79 percent on Wednesday and were back up to 89 percent on Friday of that week.

"We're hoping that is as bad as it gets," Lucas said. "We will probably be fighting this all year."

Lucas said the decision to close a school, as was done elsewhere in the county, is made locally. He said when attendance rates fall to 70 percent, superintendents begin to question whether it is beneficial to conduct school with 30 percent of the student body absent.

In his opinion, closing school for one day would not help prevent the spread of the flu anyway.

U.S. government officials are discouraging the closure of schools because of swine influenza A-H1N1.

The Department of Health and Human Services, along with other U.S. government agencies, released new swine flu guidelines in August for school systems. Those guidelines recommend encouraging students to stay home and continuing to emphasize hand washing at school.

Lucas said the district sent home a letter to parents advising them to keep sick children at home. In conjunction with that, the district is not currently requiring a doctor's excuse for every absence. (The district enacted a stricter absence policy at the beginning of the school year.)

"We are working with local doctors and trying to be fair with the attendance policy," Lucas said.

Lucas said the number of absences was likely elevated by parents who chose to keep healthy children at home.

He said the administrators also understand that asking parents to pick up sick children and keep them at home may cause difficulties for working parents.

Attendance rates are also an indicator on the district report cards, however, Lucas said if this year's absence rate affects the district's performance on the 2009-2010 report card, parents will be informed of the situation.

The World Health Organization has declared the swine flu outbreak a pandemic and is predicting up to two billion people may eventually be infected.

The WHO said more than 160,000 cases of swine flu infections have been confirmed around the world, with more than 1,000 deaths.