The Usishkin Elementary School in Tel Aviv appeared abandoned yesterday, after parents decided to keep their kids home from school due to the flu epidemic.

The outbreak began on Sunday, when 80 children stayed home due to flu. Another 40 were sent home over the course of the day. Because teachers cannot let children leave until their parents pick them up, the hallways and the teachers' lounge were filled with children with high fevers.

"Children were lying everywhere. It looked like a quickly spreading epidemic," one mother said.

On Monday, only 40 children came to school. Yesterday, there were six.

"We tried to find out what was going on, and we were told the school is not a clinic and and had no medical information," said Yoni Kapah, a member of the school's parents' association.

"But we recognized there was a problem. The parents picking up their children said they saw the school, normally full of life, was empty. Three of the children had to be hospitalized - they were later released. Yesterday the gate was locked and only six children came to school," he said.

Kapah says that on Sunday night, the parents began to investigate the matter on their own.

"We found that five staff members were ill, including the principal, and that 120 children were ill."

In response, the parents decided not to send their children to school.

"We made a decision to close the school," Kapah says. "We contacted the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry, and they told us that flu is no reason to close the school.

"That's a bad decision. There's a flu season every year, but there has never been a situation like this, not even close."

The Health Ministry responded: "The ministry was informed that about 100 students at the school have the flu. The ministry is checking the children's lab test results to see whether they have swine flu, but has not yet received the final results.

"As policy, the Health Ministry does not recommend closing schools, and we are not commenting on the parents' association decision close the school."

Professor Dan Englehard, who heads the task force on epidemics and is advising the Health Ministry on the swine flu epidemic, said, "The assumption is that the children have swine flu, because seasonal flu has not yet begun in Israel. However, there is no need to close down the school because of the illness."

"Children are not affected seriously by swine flu, and it is important for those who are ill to stay home 24 hours after the fever goes away and to maintain the necessary hygiene precautions," he said.

Meanwhile, the Usishkin parents' committee is still calling on parents not to send their children to school, fearing the swine flu will spread further.

"Anyone who wants to become sick or to make others sick is welcome to come to school. It is our duty as parents to preserve the health of your children," said committee chairwoman Ravit Frankel.

The Education Ministry said yesterday that only the principal and one child had been diagnosed with swine flu so far. There were no "unusual findings" regarding any of the other children.

Based on the Health Ministry's recommendation, the Education Ministry decided that the school would remain open, and that healthy teachers would show up for work.