School E-Mails Shed Light On Oologah School Meningitis Outbreak
By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6
OOLOGAH, OK -- The News on Six is investigating last month's deadly meningitis outbreak at a Green Country elementary school. Newly released e-mails between Oologah-Talala teachers and nurses are shedding light on the school's response.
A few e-mails stand out from the package The News On 6 received thanks to our open records request.
One e-mail was sent on Tuesday, March 9 from a second grade teacher who ended up losing two of her students.
She e-mailed the principal, saying, "I just got a telephone call, and I have a student that was admitted in the hospital for meningitis."
However, that diagnosis was unconfirmed. The school principal wrote back within 10 minutes: "The district nurse is calling to get confirmation from doctor. It's just a rumor until we confirm from doctor."
Then, on Wednesday morning, around 10:30, the principal told the teacher: "Mom is not returning calls, but hospitals are required to contact schools if there is a serious contagious disease. I will let you know when I hear something."
The State Department of Health confirmed the first meningitis case about a half-hour later. The County Health Department interviewed his parents, identified close contacts, and recommended antibiotics.
But things had spiraled out of control, and by Thursday morning, there were four confirmed cases. Second grader Andrew Thomas had died. Classmate Shuache Moua also passed away.
Records show Oologah's Superintendent Rick Thomas was notified for the first time of the outbreak at 8:36 a.m. Thursday. With the kids already in class, an antibiotic clinic for students and staff was set up right in the school gym.
Superintendent Thomas sent out an e-mail to faculty: "We have been in contact with the State Health Department and will be following their emergency protocol."
The school nurse tells teachers to use hand sanitizer very often, and make sure all children wash hands thoroughly.
On Friday, March 12th, Superintendent Thomas shuts down school and opens up a vaccination clinic. That day, the seventh and final case of meningitis is confirmed.
Some of the e-mails express frustration that parents believed the school knew definitively on Tuesday afternoon of a meningitis diagnosis, when that wasn't the case.
The school nurse and principal also e-mailed each other saying they wanted to go to the funerals, but didn't know if the family members would welcome their presence.
One of those meningitis victims, 6-year-old Jeremiah Mitchell, will have his fourth skin graft operation at The Shriners' Hospital for Children in Cincinnati on Thursday.