Schools prepare for flu

State and county revise advice on how long to stay home

KINDERHOOK–School starts September 8 and local districts are getting ready for the influx of students and germs. Flu season is right around the corner, and after last spring’s H1N1 outbreak schools and health departments are trying to get the word out to students and parents about what do to stay healthy and to prevent the spread of the illness.

H1N1, commonly known as swine flu, is a subtype of the influenza virus that first appeared in Mexico last year, according to the World Health Organization. It quickly spread to the U.S. and othe countries and responsible for the decision by scientists and public health officials to declare the outbreak of the latest strain of the flu virus a pandemic.

The state Education Department posted a letter to all school administrators on its website Monday with the latest “guidance on ways schools can help to reduce the spread of the novel H1N1 influenza virus.”

The Education Department is working with the state Department of Health.

“We continue to emphasize that the primary means to reduce spread of flu in schools is to focus on early identification of ill students and staff who should be excluded from school and all school-related activities when ill, and to encourage good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette,” said the letter.

Ichabod Crane Superintendent James Dexter offered similar recommendations at a board meeting August 18. He said that it was important for parents to keep sick kids home, and that sick staff members should not come in. He also said that state is not suggesting schools close if there are a number of students out, and though he was sure there would be students with the flu he didn’t see any reasons to shut down school. He praised the county health department saying people at that agency “have been wonderful to work with. They’ve keep us well informed.”

The ICC District will post updates on their website,

The New Lebanon Central School District already has information posted on its website, The district has a letter to parents and a link to an online newsletter called “Hands-On Health,” with information about the flu.

The county health department’s Mary (Margaret????) Costello said in a phone interview that both the federal Centers for Disease Control and the state health say closing schools would be the last resort. She did say that schools need a certain amount of staff to stay open, so if many employees are sick at the same time, the district may need to close. The state has set guidelines for those cases.

The county health department receives updates from state, and Ms. Costello says the state has changed the rule about how much time a sick student or staff member needs to be out. Originally the rule was that if you had flu-like systems you needed be absent 7 days; but now the guidelines say that if you have no fever, without taking fever reducing medicine, for 24 hours you can go back to school or work.

She said health officials have found that “the cough lasts longer than the person feels (unwell).” With a cough, she says, people should remember to cover their months, wash their hands and throw away used tissues.

Cheryl Nuciforo, superintendent of the Chatham School District, said that her district has reviewed all federal and state guidelines, and put those guidelines in place. She did say that she noticed little differences in the many guidelines available from different health departments, but that the district was focusing on sanitation and early detection. She said she was hopefully that flu season would not be too disruptive. She plans to send a letter to parents about the policies on H1N1 soon. 

Ms. Costello, at the county health department, said there have been eight confirmed H1N1 cases in the county. This summer there were some camp closings she said, though no serious cases of the illness. She said that the CDC website, is a good place for information about the flu. 

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