Schools guard against swine flu
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Schools guard against swine flu

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Schoolchildren who are feeling ill will be asked to stay home to avoid possibly spreading their symptoms. Brymo/Creative Commons/JTA Staff

With concerns mounting that an outbreak of H1N1 in the fall could dwarf what the community has seen so far, local schools took advantage of the summer to sanitize their facilities.

Ruth Gafni, principal of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, said the school used the summer holiday to disinfect the building, spraying desks and doing special cleaning of the windows and other surfaces, such as door handles.

“The fact that the building was empty was a good opportunity,” she said.

Gafni noted that while the school was still awaiting formal guidelines from the town of New Milford, where the school is situated, it would be “as proactive as possible” in the meantime. For example, she said, hand-sanitizer stations have been placed “all around the school,” especially near the lunchroom, gym, and bathrooms.

Noting that the school had seen instances of the flu last season, “though not in high numbers,” Gafni said, “We’re holding our breath, hoping for the best. We’ll take any precaution that will allow for that to happen.”

Robert Smolen, middle school director at the Gerrard Berman Solomon Schechter Day School in Oakland, said the school had undertaken a full summer cleaning, sanitizing desks as well as all other surfaces students might have come into contact with, in addition to the usual cleaning of floors, boards, and walls.

He said that not only are sanitizer stations available in bathrooms, “but any handle, door pushes, faucets, soap machines, etc.,” will be cleaned throughout the day during the school year.

While the school did not see any cases of the virus last year, he said, it did take “extra precautions,” sending notes to parents advising them, for example, that children with fever would not be allowed into the school and suggesting that children with flu-like symptoms be kept home.

“We’ve upped the precautions,” he said. “We’ll be more fastidious with things like hand-washing.”

Ruth Roth, admissions and public relations director at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, reported that the school’s nurse, Dara Silverstein, has been in contact with the Paramus public health nurse and has reviewed all communications forwarded to the school regarding flu precautions.

Said Roth, “According to all communications and recommendations from public health officials, monitoring [the] reasons for absences is the biggest issue, in order to contain the spread of the virus. BPY will be working closely with the Paramus Health Department to monitor student absences and illnesses and keep detailed records of symptoms of sick students as well as staff.”

In addition, at the beginning of the school year, “we will be conducting educational campaigns with staff, parents, and students regarding hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and the necessity of absences when sick.”

“Hand-sanitation supplies will be readily available in classrooms and the lunchroom and, of course, in bathrooms. Also, desks, the lunchroom, and bathrooms will be vigilantly cleaned according to the standards recommended by the health department.”

Eliott Prager, principal of Moriah in Englewood, says the school has installed hand sanitizers in every room and will “wipe down and disinfect all surfaces, including door handles, every night.”

In addition, he said, in line with Centers for Disease Control regulations, the school will quarantine any child with a fever of 100 degrees or more until that child can be taken home from school.

“We’ve also sent out a lengthy communication to parents about the CDC Website and precautions we will be taking,” he said, noting that when school begins, “we will instruct the children on how to cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough.”

While the school saw an uptick in absences last year, “it was not of an epidemic level,” said Prager. This year, “we don’t know what to expect.”

He added that when a vaccine becomes available, if there is a directive that they be distributed only through schools, Moriah will, with parental consent, administer the vaccines.

“Of course we would prefer that families see their individual physicians,” he said, adding, “we’re hoping for the best.”

Enid Anzisca, executive director of Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, said that parents who are also health professionals have formed a committee to work with the school nurse and the administration to follow up with CDC guidelines.

“We’re getting protocols in place so we will be prepared,” she said, adding that “one of the beauties of the school is that we include parents” in the school’s activities.

While the school closed just after Memorial Day during the last school year in response to a large number of absences, opening again after Shavuot, she said that “the recommendation of the CDC is not to close school but to send the children home and do everything we can to be careful and conscientious.”

“While there are already Purell [hand-sanitizer] bottles in every classroom,” she said, “we’re ramping it up.”

In addition, she said, recognizing that germs may live on computer keyboards, “we’re Chloroxing keyboards and other things with a high risk for transferring germs.”

“Our computer teacher makes the children use Purell before they even enter the computer room,” she said.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldstein of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge said that in addition to the precautions noted above – intensive cleaning of all surfaces and the availability of alcohol-based hand cleaners in each classroom – teachers will ensure that young children clean their hands before eating snacks “or doing activities that involve hand- to-mouth contact.”

“We’ve also told the staff that they should not come in when they’re sick and if they find students who are ill, they should send them to the school nurse for evaluation. In addition, every class will have boxes of tissues and teachers will review hygiene with the students,” he said.

Rosenbaum said he is hoping that the area has seen the worst of the H1N1 virus.

“There’s no scientific basis for this, but I’m hoping we were hit first and it has passed.”

In the meantime, he said, the school, which has a full-time nurse, will keep in constant contact with the local board of health.

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