Girl was found unresponsive at home; district addresses concerns about flu

Classmates grieving the death of a first-grade student at Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln Elementary School met with counselors and made cards and drawings to express their sadness and condolences to the girl’s family.

The Bartholomew County Coroner’s office identified the girl as Savanna G. Jessie, who lived in the 900 block of Fourth Street in Columbus.

Savanna was found unresponsive in her home by family members at 5:41 a.m. Thursday and was rushed by emergency responders to Columbus Regional Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 6:39 a.m., according to the coroner’s office.

Her name was withheld publicly until Friday afternoon to complete notifications to her next of kin.

Emotions were high at CSA-Lincoln when students came together for the first time Friday morning after learning of their classmate’s death, said Larry Perkinson, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. employee and student assistance coordinator.

“There were lots of tears from her classmates and the staff members, and there were tears of the classmates of the girl’s siblings,” Perkinson said.

Principal Brett Findley said Savanna had a smile that “reached ear to ear.”

“She loved school and made everyone’s day brighter. I could always count on a hug from Savanna when I entered the classroom. Our school family will miss her deeply. My sincerest condolences go out to her family in this difficult time,” the principal said.

Lori Cash, first grade teacher, described Savanna as a bright and vibrant little girl.

“She could light up our classroom with her smile and the twinkle in her eyes! She was always eager to learn and to do her best at school. We will truly miss this kindhearted and enthusiastic young lady. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family,” she said.

An autopsy was conducted Friday morning by a forensic pathologist, Nolting said. Savanna’s cause of death is pending completion of toxicology and body-tissue samples and an examination of her medical records, Coroner Clayton Nolting said. Those tests were expected to take up to three weeks.

Savanna tested positive for influenza B and strep throat and had scarlet fever at the time of her death, Nolting said. She had been running a high fever, but there is no indication that she suffered sepsis, which is harmful bacteria and their toxins, typically from an infection, Nolting said.

BCSC Superintendent Jim Roberts released a statement Friday afternoon acknowledging with great sadness the death of the first-grader and addressing families’ concerns about the flu.

BCSC has notified Dr. Roy Goode, the school corporation’s physician, the Bartholomew County Health Department and the Indiana State Department of Health, the statement said.

Although there is no reporting requirement about illness rates until the absence rate reaches 20 percent, Roberts said BCSC’s illness-absence rate is hovering around 5 percent and it is imperative that the school corporation share information about the spread of germs.

The statement advised:

  • Parents or guardians concerned about a child’s overall health, flu-like symptoms or other risk factors should contact their child’s primary health care provider or the local health department for recommendations.
  • Those who are sick should stay home and contact their doctor for advice. Students and staff are encouraged to get the flu vaccine.
  • Everyday preventative actions such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer and to avoid spreading germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

“As always, school attendance is critical to a child’s success,” the statement said. “We respect a parent’s determination regarding his or her child’s attendance. In making the decision to keep a child at home, as with any absence, parents are expected to contact the school and provide the specific reason to school officials.”