By Stephen Smith and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff, and Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent
Boston Latin and two other local schools will be closed for seven days after a number of students fell ill in what public health officials have described as suspected clusters of swine or seasonal flu.
Boston health and school authorities decided to close Boston Latin, the largest high school in the city, after more than 250 students called in sick today out of nearly 2,400 pupils in grades 7 through 12.
"This is not a time to panic, but it is a time to be cautious," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said this afternoon at a press conference at City Hall. "I understand this is an inconvenience for students, parents, faculty, and staff. We didn't make this decision lightly, but we are doing this for their well being."
Boston public health authorities announced later this afternoon that classes were also being cancelled for a week at the Winsor School, a private girls' school in the city's Longwood area. Authorities watched with increasing concern as an unusually high number of students reported flu-like symptoms and, today, 34 students were absent from a student body of 430.
This morning the Dana Hall School in Wellesley announced it was closing for the next week after nearly 100 students and staff called in sick with fevers, sore throats, and other flu-like systems. There have not yet been any confirmed swine flu cases at the private, all-girls boarding school, according to town health officials.
At the City Hill press conference, Boston Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said that she expects state officials will not require Boston Latin students to make up the missed classes. Johnson sent a letter to students and staff saying that the school building will be completely closed on Wednesday and will re-open on May 27. All on-site athletic events and extra-curricular activities have been canceled. MCAS math tests scheduled for Wednesday for 10th graders at Boston Latin have been rescheduled until next week as have advanced placement tests.
"The school has experienced unusually high levels of influenza-like illness in recent days, and we hope that this temporary closure will prevent new infections and avoid unnecessary illness," Johnson wrote in the letter, which can be found here. "Because the safety of students and staff is our highest priority, we have taken this step with the guidance of the Boston Public Health Commission."
Since swine flu emerged in Massachusetts late last month, there have been 171 confirmed cases of the disease, including 19 in Suffolk County.
At Boston Latin, freshman Eddie Lui said swine flu dominated the hallway buzz this morning. "Everyone was worried about getting it," said Lui, who lives in the South End.
The closing surprised freshman Wilhelmina Moen, who noted it was nice that authorities were concerned about the student's health.
"I'm not that worried," said Moen, who lives in Brighton. "It's the same thing as the other kind of flu. That flu kills too."
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