The potential for an influenza pandemic in the United States is at its greatest level in several decades; thus, it is imperative that school districts collaborate with public health agencies to develop pandemic plans that build on existing emergency response and crisis management plans. According to Dana Carr, program specialist, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), “Pandemic planning and response must focus on: maintaining open, efficient, and effective lines of communication; and ensuring that school constituencies and the public know in advance where to locate official information.”
Avoiding the Flu: Tips for Students And Teachers
• Wash hands with soap frequently.
• Cover the mouth or nose
when coughing or sneezing.
• Get a fl u shot.
• Stay home if fl u symptoms appear.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Avoid touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.
• Clean and disinfect commonly touched classroom surfaces.*
• Clean and disinfect bathrooms.*
• Continue to exercise and eat well.
• Drink plenty of fl uids.
• Get enough rest.
• Always carry tissues.
*When cleaning commonly touched
surfaces (e.g., desks, light switches,
doorknobs) and bathrooms, use
soap or detergent and water before
treating with an EPA-registered
disinfectant according to label
The Emergency Response and Crisis Management (ERCM) Technical Assistance Center at ED suggests numerous pandemic preparedness activities for each of four defined elements of emergency planning. Listed here are a few examples of these activities.
Element One: Prevention- Mitigation
• Disseminate messages about preventive hygiene by using posters and videos to outline recommended procedures for staff and students;
• Review management policies and procedures including emergency operations plans and personnel policies that will be affected if there are extended school closures; and
• Conduct training for nurses, teachers, administration staff, and food service staff about infectious diseases and how to prevent and control outbreaks.
Element Two: Preparedness
• Formalize collaboration and coordination of resources with local health departments or hospitals;
• Review city, county, or regional response plans to avoid fragmentation or unnecessary duplication of services;
• Consider alternate school calendars, Web-based instruction, or other methods to ensure continuity of instruction;
• Communicate with school staff the personnel policies regarding employee compensation and sick leave; and
• Formulate plans regarding continuation of school operations and instructional programs with a possible 30 percent reduction in workforce.
Element Three: Response
• Activate response plans;
• Follow procedures outlined in joint response plans to isolate or send home sick students and staff, and ensure availability of sanitation supplies; and
• Deliver timely and honest communication about the actions of the schools and school districts to preserve the safety and health of faculty, staff, students, and their families.
Element Four: Recovery
• Consider a potential disinfection process at the school depending on the severity and duration of the pandemic;
• Provide additional instruction and reinforce behavioral expectations as needed to assist students in readjusting to classroom- based learning; and
• Address issues of grief and loss as well as other mental health needs of students and staff, as necessary.
By enhancing crisis management and response plans in conjunction with leadership from the White House, ED, and HHS, schools will help keep more young people healthy during a pandemic. By following these guidelines and conducting tabletop drills to discuss a simulated pandemic and the response procedures, schools will glean valuable insights about their level of preparedness.