Will Swine Flu Sideline Your School This Year? New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend closing schools only in extreme cases. The CDC also says students should stay home for 24 hours after they no longer have a fever — without the use of fever-reducing medication.
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Will Swine Flu Sideline Your School This Year?

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Will Swine Flu Sideline Your School This Year?

Will Swine Flu Sideline Your School This Year?

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Schools are starting to open around the country. And at the same time, some parents are wondering if their children's schools will be forced to close because of swine flu. Well, the answer, according to many school administrators, is probably not.

As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, new health guidelines put more of the burden on parents to keep sick kids at home.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Last spring was a nightmare for school districts in places like Fort Worth, Texas. After just a handful of cases of swine flu cropped up, Superintendent Melody Johnson was told by local health officials to send 80,000 students home.

Dr. MELODY JOHNSON (Superintendent, The Fort Worth Independent School District): We were told to shut down four days. No, you have to keep closed seven days. Then it was 10 days.

ABRAMSON: The system stayed closed for six days before the policy changed. New federal guidelines recommend closing schools only in extreme cases. The big push this year is focused on parents.

Last April, Superintendent Belinda Pustka had to close the Schertz-Cibolo School District in South Texas. This year, she's sending out this message to her families.

Ms. BELINDA PUSTKA (Superintendent, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District): Just assume that your child will have the flus at some point this year. What kind of arrangements will you make in order to make sure that your son or daughter is taken care of?

ABRAMSON: Pustka says it's not always easy to get parents to keep kids home if their illness appears mild. But health guidelines say students should remain at home for 24 hours after they no longer have signs of a fever, and that means without the use of fever-reducing medication.

Belinda Pustka says it may be even harder to convince parents, whose alarm about pandemic HIN1 has eased somewhat. But she tells them this.

Ms. PUSTKA: Take other people into consideration. There will be a child in the classroom who either has asthma or is medically fragile, or a teacher who may be pregnant.

ABRAMSON: Those are all risk factors that can lead to complications. And that creates a challenge for the many schools that deal with medically fragile students who have to be protected.

Dr. Corey Hebert is chief medical officer for New Orleans Recovery School District, which is already back in session.

Dr. COREY HEBERT (Chief Medical Officer, New Orleans Recovery School District): Especially the children that are when they're coming home - coming back from recess, coming back from P.E., they're sweating, they're dirty, they're not washing their hands, you know, that type of thing. We're definitely keeping our susceptible populations away from them.

ABRAMSON: The new guidelines also recommend that kids who get sick at school be isolated until parents pick them up. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests that if swine flu or the regular flu virus appears, schools should divide students into smaller groups, or increase the space between desks. Those may not be realistic options for the many districts that are overcrowded.

But Belinda Pustka, of the Schertz-Cibolo schools in Texas, says despite a lack of space, she has devised ways of reducing the chance of infection.

Ms. PUSTKA: What we're saying this year, we're not going to have group supplies. Every child will have their own supplies, and we're going to keep them separate so that you don't have as many opportunities to spread germs.

ABRAMSON: Many educators privately questioned the CDC policy last spring. Some said their students probably faced greater risk from the outside world since they get their only balanced meal at school and end up on the street.

But if health officials say they should close, schools have little choice. A number of schools say this year, they will play a more active role in stopping swine flu by offering children and staff the vaccine once it becomes available.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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