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Federal officials have said the nation's schools should only close as a last resort this year. Closings at dozens of schools last year kept thousands of children at home; officials worried about the burden on working parents who had to arrange impromptu child care or stay home with their kids.
Previously, those struck ill were advised to stay home for a week after their fever broke. But this school year, children will be told they can return to school 24 hours after their fever is gone and they're feeling better.
St. Francis Prep is planning a health assembly for its 2,700 students at the start of the year to impart the basics: Wash your hands. Don't share drinks and utensils. If you get sick, stay home.
School officials are determined not to repeat the scene of feverish students lined up by the dozen in hallways outside the school nurse's office, coughing on healthy students who were walking from class to class. So the school's auditorium has been assigned special status as a sick room.
Officials are still contemplating whether enough vaccination shots are available for all the city's schoolchildren. If so, Farley says, the Health Department would prefer that family doctors handle students' inoculations, although flu clinics in schools are also a possibility.
Schools might also institute routine checks, Farley said, asking students whether they are experiencing fever or respiratory symptoms, then putting them in a designated room until they can be picked up by their parents.
The panel that's determining the finer points of city policy even considered requiring students to wash their hands several times a day, said Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, the city's flu coordinator who is heading up the team. But the measure hasn't been adopted yet because the panel wants to give schools discretion to choose policies that work best for them, he said.
At St. Francis, where fluorescent corridor lights reflect brightly off the newly waxed and buffed hallways, administrators are waiting to start a fresh year. They're prepared with extra equipment this time around. After the chaos of last year, the school received donated sterilization equipment, and the school nurse bought touch-forehead thermometers to make mass triage easier.
And McLaughlin, the assistant principal, has at least one virus-related development to look forward to. He's planning an entire unit in health class based around swine flu.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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