As flu fears swirl, schools say they're safe

From raising the supply of sanitizing gel to shutting off water bubblers, local school districts are responding to the spread of swine flu in a variety of ways as students and teachers return to school Monday.

Nashua Superintendent Christopher Hottel said Friday that he had spent much of the week meeting with city officials and principals to discuss the district’s response.

While the district is taking the situation seriously, Hottel stressed that schools would be safe for students when they reopen Monday. There have been no reported cases of swine flu in the district, he said.

“We want to be sure we’re taking a calm and measured approach to this,” Hottel said.

Students who have flu-like symptoms are being asked to stay home, regardless of where they traveled, he said.

As opposed to the usual automated call, Hottel said school representatives would be calling homes Monday morning to get more information about absentees.

Message from the Superintendent:

If the reason is sickness, parents will be asked what symptoms the child is showing and where he or she has traveled. Schools may be asking for a doctor’s note before students exhibiting symptoms can return.

Hottel said the primary focus for the district would be on sanitization. He said he authorized spending about $3,000 to supplement the current supply of alcohol-based sanitizing gel. Hottel said the gel would be available in every classroom in the city, as well as in cafeterias and gymnasiums.

In addition, teachers are being asked to monitor any symptoms among students, he said.

Hottel said the start of school Monday should be normal for students. In some situations, particularly at the elementary level, teachers may talk with students about where they went over vacation, as they usually would, he said.

traveled to affected areas – specifically, Mexico and Texas – to check in with the school nurse for seven days.

“We’re trying to take precautions without stampeding to a panic,” Bell said.

Bell said Hudson would be sending a phone alert home to parents on Friday letting them know about the steps the district is taking to protect students. The district has received a handful of phone calls from concerned parents, he said.

According to the letter the school district posted on its Web site Friday, other steps being taken in Hudson include shutting off water bubblers in the schools to reduce risk of contamination.

Parents are being asked to send their children to school with individual water bottles. Also, testing that had been scheduled this week for students entering first grade was postponed for two weeks.

“We don’t need to add another 270 wild cards,” Bell said.

Bell said the situation was made more difficult because news of the flu happened during a school vacation. Bell said he spent much of the break meeting with district and town officials, including the police and fire chiefs.

“We’ve been meeting for the last three days,” Bell said Friday.

The district is also getting guidance from state health officials, he said.

Bell said if a student were to be confirmed to have a case of swine flu, all schools would be shut down for seven days. Bell said the state has said the school year wouldn’t have to be extended in that situation.

When asked if he felt the precautions being taken were appropriate, Bell said the district is erring on the side of caution.

“We’re looking to be over-prepared rather than under-prepared,” he said.

Hottel said a single case of swine flu wouldn’t necessarily mean schools would be shut down in Nashua.

“One student, one case wouldn’t automatically mean the school would be closed,” he said.

Deb Woelflein, assistant superintendent in Merrimack, said her district has also alerted families and staff to the situation using a parent communication system. The message was sent out Thursday night, she said.

Neither Bell, Woelflein nor Hottel said they had heard about any families who traveled to affected areas over the break. Woelflein said she has received phone calls from parents looking for information. A few parents are planning to keep their children out of school because of their medical conditions, she said.