For a brief period last spring, the state was advising school districts and day care centers to close temporarily if a single student had a confirmed case of swine flu or had been exposed to a family member with a confirmed case. But those guidelines were quickly eased. The emphasis now is on keeping schools open and sick people at home.
For a brief period last spring, the state was advising school districts and day care centers to close temporarily if a single student had a confirmed case of swine flu or had been exposed to a family member with a confirmed case.
But those guidelines were quickly eased. The emphasis now is on keeping schools open and sick people at home, according to the latest guidelines from the state Department of Public Health and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Goals for the new school season are to prevent as many cases of the flu as possible and to keep schools open and functioning as usual,” says the communication to school administrators, nurses and educators, based on recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The state Department of Public Health said it recognizes that “one a case-by-case basis, some schools may need to consider the dismissal or closure of a facility if the extent of influenza-like illness has impaired the school’s ability to perform its educational functions.” School officials closed Grafton High School for four consecutive days after 46 percent of the student body and 43 percent of the faculty were absent with flu-like symptoms.
Before making a decision to close, school officials are advised to discuss the situation with their local boards of health or the state Department of Public Health.
Bob Smith, principal of Moreau Hall Elementary School in Easton, said school principals met last week with School Superintendent Michael Green to discuss what procedures to follow in the event many children or teachers are out with the flu.
“If it goes beyond what we consider to be normal, routine absences, we notify the superintendent,” said Smith. “Dr. Green will confer with the school nurses, the Board of Health and town officials to see what is the best way to handle it.” The state says the decision to close should be based on absenteeism that is substantially higher than expected for the time of year; confirmation that the absenteeism is due to influenza-like illness; indications that already high absentee rates are increasing rather than falling, and the inability of the school to function due to high absenteeism of students or staff.
Schools should close for five to seven days, the state said. School authorities should consult with their local boards of health or the state before reopening.
State guidelines on how to handle both seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus are available at www.doe.mass.edu/pandemic/h1n1/fall2009guidance.doc and www.mass.gov/flu.
The big challenge facing schools this year is the unknown, said Smith.
“We don’t know what to expect,” said Smith. “We have procedures to follow, but we won’t know until it happens. As an administrator, I like to plan things and anticipate problems. It puts us in an awkward situation.”