Flu season causes widespread school closings in at least 12 states
- Excessive absences, in some cases more than 25% of the student body, and heightened concerns about the rapid spread of this year’s flu has closed at least 20 school districts or schools in 12 states across the nation for at least a day to allow for the disinfection of school property and the recovery of students and staff, Newsweek reports.
- This year’s flu season marks the first time in 15 flu seasons where all the states in the continental U.S. reported widespread flu activity simultaneously. The flu is especially hitting baby-boomers hard, but more than 37 children nationwide have died so far as a result of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- While this year’s flu vaccine is considered less effective than in years past, the CDC is still recommending it to slow down the spread and severity of illness. Students, teachers and parents are also urged to stay home if they are symptomatic.
With this year’s flu season poised to be one of the worst in the past decade, school administrators need to keep these issues on their radar in order to prevent widespread contagion and to be prepared to deal with it if it impacts their school district. The issues involve more than just student illness. Some schools are also closing because they are running out of bus drivers and substitute teachers.
As far as prevention goes, the CDC offers suggestions on best practices for schools and child care providers. Schools can encourage hand-washing and sanitary sneezing practices, step up efforts to disinfect classrooms, and encourage students and teachers to stay home if they are sick. Schools can also encourage teachers and students to get the flu shot, perhaps by setting up vaccination opportunities at school. Parents who may be reluctant to get vaccinations for their children may be more likely to comply if they understand that 171 children died during the 2012-13 season and that a recent study indicates that vaccinations help guard against these deaths.
Administrators also need to prepare for the possibility that the flu may impact the school to a larger degree. Updating substitute teacher contact information and informing parents of school policies regarding school attendance when children are sick are two proactive steps. Schools may also want to explore e-learning options for students who are out or for entire classrooms, should the school need to close. Finding ways to keep students safe and the learning flowing should be top priorities.