Experts offer advice on school preparedness for H1N1 outbreaks

NEW YORK — School district leaders planning for H1N1 pandemics should update emergency plans using a four-step process, according to the McGraw-Hill Education Urban Advisory Resource, a team of former educators and school administrators dedicated to serving the unique needs of large school districts.

"While most superintendents have a lot of experience creating and implementing emergency plans to deal with natural disaster, terrorism and school violence, dealing with a pandemic is outside the scope of anyone's experience," said Arthur Griffin Jr., senior vice president of the Urban Advisory Resource and former chairman of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school board. He spoke Nov. 5.

Dr. Stan Paz, vice president of the Urban Advisory Resource and former superintendent of the Tucson (Ariz.) Unified School District, explains that the four-step process for pandemic preparation begins with education. District leaders have a responsibility to inform students and parents about the dangers of H1N1.

Working very closely with local health departments, administrators need to communicate all the information — how H1N1 is transmitted, what can be done to protect a family, what the symptoms are — in multiple ways and in every language appropriate for the district. Information can be placed in district newsletters, on district-owned television and radio, and on Web sites.

Second, school leaders need to work with the health officials to begin prevention by re-educating students on ways to practice good hygiene: frequent hand washing; maintaining proper cough and sneeze behavior; and keeping fingers away from faces.

Third, preparation must include the anticipation of very specific procedures and policies, such as guidelines for when children may not attend school, staff absentee policies and school closure guidelines. Many additional issues, such as what happens when children miss mandatory standardized tests, must be considered.

This preparation includes having multiple communication strategies in place, including toll-free hot lines, telephone trees, e-mail, fax, cell phones and broadcast, to inform staff and families about the status of the pandemic and district actions.

Fourth, plan for the long haul to educate the children after schools are closed after an outbreak. A menu of possibilities can be considered including home instruction using parents as teachers with materials sent to the home or provided through online distance learning.

"While no one ever wants to plan for these types of situations, preparing in advanced can help everyone remain calm and able to respond in an effective way," Griffin said.

The McGraw-Hill Urban Advisory Resource’s experts work with districts to find the best solutions to provide better quality instruction, curriculum and assessment to their students.

McGraw-Hill Education, a division of The McGraw-Hill Co., offers print and digital instructional, assessment and reference solutions that empower professionals and students of all ages. McGraw-Hill Education has offices in 33 countries and publishes in more than 65 languages.