Prepare for Flu as you Head Back to School
Simple steps taken now can help you be ready for an H1N1 outbreak.
By Tyler Miller
As questions linger about whether the H1N1 virus will sweep through classrooms this fall, educators should do more than stand on the sidelines and wait for a potential outbreak of the swine flu to shutter their schools. Here are a few steps that go beyond hand-washing to ensure you’re ready for whatever comes your way.
1. Familiarize yourself with your school’s health and safety policies and procedures and H1N1 contingency plan. If you don’t know where the plan is posted—or if there is one—ask! Find out, too, if your school has issued any special guidelines outlining when to send a student to the nurse’s office.
2. Consider volunteering for the H1N1 flu planning team in your building or district. Some local education associations also have health and safety committees or joint labor-management health and safety teams.
3. Review any language in your contract or collective bargaining agreement pertaining to health and safety. Also read up on your school’s employee sick-leave policy for swine flu, particularly if you are pregnant or have underlying health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.
4. Check with your local union representatives to ensure your salary and benefits will be protected in the event of a pandemic closing. Clarify whether you will have to report for work at your building during an H1N1 closure.
5. Ask custodial staff how you can help them keep schools as clean as possible. “Teachers are rightfully concerned about catching any infectious disease, and this is an area where school districts can really work toward best practices,” says Norman Danzig, a New Jersey Education Association field representative. “The local [associations] can really play a part in talking to districts and making sure schools are regularly cleaned, that furniture and bathrooms are not just broom-swept but are also disinfected.” As a rule, custodians provide a thorough cleaning of classrooms before and/or after school, but teachers and paras can help contain the spread of germs in between classes by “cleaning desktops, counters, sinks, soap and paper towel dispensers, especially during a flu outbreak,” says Washington custodian Pat Nicholson. Here are five ways to a cleanier, healthier classroom.
6. Make sure you know if and when schools will close and how the decision will be made. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said that any decision to dismiss students—whether proactively or reactively—should be made at the local level, as school officials consult with health officials, government officials, parent and student representatives, school employees, union representatives, and other stakeholders. Dismissals can then be reported via a federal monitoring system at www.cdc.gov/FluSchoolDismissal.
7. Take time to find out more about H1N1 so you can watch for symptoms in your students. Resources are available at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/ or www.pandemicflu.gov/. Educators, along with parents, are on the front lines of combating a possible flu outbreak!