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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Preparing for the pandemic

Federal health and education officials are advising local school leaders to begin preparing now for the possibility of an outbreak of the bird flu pandemic, according to an eSchoolNews report this week.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Health and Human Services Secretary said schools must be aware that they might have to close their buildings, or that schools might have to be used as makeshift hospitals, quarantine sites or vaccination centers.

Another possibility is that schools would have to develop ways to teach students who have been sent home. In Massachusetts, school administrators are considering using an automated phone bank to announce homework assignments and update parents. Another plan would be to use the Internet for communication between teachers and students.

The government has created checklists on preparation and response steps, specialized for preschools, grade schools, high schools and colleges. The dominant theme is the need for coordination among local, state and federal officials.

Some of the advice is common sense, like urging students to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Other steps would take schools considerable time to figure out, such as legal and communication issues.