Closely monitoring the H1N1 flu’s impact on U.S. schools, Secretary of Education Duncan has a message for America’s school leaders, teachers, parents and students: Keep safe and keep learning.At a media briefing Friday with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary Duncan said, “We are all rightly concerned about the potential health impact of this flu. But as Secretary of Education, I am also concerned about the impact of this flu on learning.”
The Department of Education had confirmed Friday that more than 430 public and nonpublic schools were closed for reasons related to the flu outbreak. More than 245,000 students had been dismissed, in 18 states. The number of students out of class represents less than one-half of 1 percent of enrollment nationwide.
Schools had closed in these states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. In addition, five colleges, in four states, had reported probable or confirmed cases of H1N1, in Delaware, California, Indiana, and Ohio.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for schools and childcare facilities on Friday, recommending dismissal for up to 14 days where there has been a confirmed case among the school’s population, a suspected case linked to a confirmed case-like a student with flu-like symptoms who has a family member with H1N1 virus-or where there has been a confirmed case in the larger community. Previously, the CDC recommended that schools and childcare facilities remain closed for 7 days.
“This (increased) length of time is recommended because children are likely to be infectious for about 7 – 10 days after the onset of illness,” the CDC’s updated guidance reads. The CDC also issued an alert for institutions of higher education.
Whether to close a school, and for how long, remains a decision that should be made locally in consultation with local and state public health officials.
“Schools, in consultation with local and state public health officials, should evaluate daily the need for possible extension of the dismissal/closure based on local influenza surveillance information and the occurrence of new infections and severity of illness in the community from this virus,” the CDC advises. Also, when schools close, all school-related events should be canceled, and students should not gather in other public places.
“This school year isn’t over yet,” Secretary Duncan reminded students at Friday’s briefing. “Don’t fall behind your peers at other schools that are still in session. Keep working hard, and we absolutely want to finish this school year strong.”
Teachers should prepare assignments that students can complete at home, the Secretary advised. Parents, too, can be supportive.
“I know it can be inconvenient when your child’s school is closed,” Secretary Duncan said. “If you have to stay home from work, use that opportunity to…keep your child up to speed. Learn about what they’re learning in school, and keep them on task.”
You can read a transcript of Friday’s media briefing.