Meningitis death keeps pupils home

Bay-Brook parents fearful after assistant principal dies of rare form of illness

May 22, 1999|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Despite assurances from health officials, many Bay-Brook Elementary School parents kept their children home yesterday after the southern Baltimore school's assistant principal became ill and died of meningitis.

City Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said Patricia Jackson, 48, had a bacterial form of the illness which would not have spread through the Brooklyn school. The bacteria, pneumococcus, cause ear infections in children and pneumonia, he said, and are rarely associated with meningitis. "Many totally healthy people are walking around with this [bacteria] in their throats right now," he said.

For a reason unknown to doctors, the bacteria move into the brain and spinal cord of some people, causing meningitis, Beilenson said. Treatment is not recommended for children or adults who come in contact with a person with this type of meningitis, Beil- enson said.

Jackson, a 25-year school system employee, began complaining of nausea and headaches more than a week ago, but continued to work. She spent Monday and Tuesday at a state-sponsored training seminar for new assistant principals at the Professional Development Center on Northern Parkway, said Vanessa Pyatt, a school system spokeswoman.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jackson became incoherent, and her colleagues -- a group of about 30 other assistant principals -- called an ambulance. She was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital, where she died Thursday evening, Pyatt said.

Principal Catherine Reinholdt sent a letter home to parents on Wednesday informing them of Jackson's illness and assuring them the school was safe. Parents began calling immediately. Reinholdt said a small group of parents came to the school Thursday and took their children home but most parents seemed to accept the Health Department's assurances.

Still, Reinholdt said, 70 parents kept their children home on Thursday and more did so on Friday, apparently out of fear. Attendance at the school was 79 percent on Thursday compared with 94 percent on the average day. Reinholdt said no teachers or staff members were absent from the 400-pupil school Friday. Parent Teacher Association President Catherine Greene said she sent her children to school. "Naturally, when you are dealing with a serious illness, everyone is very nervous," she said.

In a discussion with Jackson last week, Greene said the assistant principal told her she had rubbed Greene's son's back in order to relax him before a test.

"I have to leave it in God's hands and trust what they are saying is true. I am confident that this is one of those freak things," Greene said.

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