Schools, the flu and vaccines: What You Need to Know

The H1N1 virus has killed thousands of people across the country

By GreatSchools Staff

The H1N1 virus is sweeping the country --

Schools on High Alert

Schools and state and county public health departments are on high alert, monitoring the situation closely and issuing new directives frequently.

Most Cases So Far Have Been Mild

Despite the alarm and the precautions taken, most cases reported have been relatively mild and have not required a doctor's care. Dr. Mitch Katz, director of San Francisco's Department of Public Health, urges people not to go to their doctor unless they actually need medical attention. Since the first reported death in the United States so far, a 23-month-old toddler in Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Have a Family Plan in Place

The swine flu is unpredictable as it spreads and new schools are closed every day. Have a plan in place for who will look after your child if his school shuts down. Federal and local government officials are urging employers to be flexible during this time so that parents can be home with their kids if necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are schools closing?

Children are particularly susceptible to the swine flu, and illness tends to spread quickly among them. The goal of shutting down a school is to slow the spread of the disease in a community, decrease the number of people who get sick and buy time for the production and distribution of a vaccine for this new virus.

How do I find out if my school is closed?

Most schools have a communications plan for closures and will notify you. You can also call the school or check its Web site. Find the correct contact information by searching for your school on GreatSchools.

Who determines when a school should shut down?

The CDC recommends that local public health officers order a school to close if there is one confirmed or strongly suspected case of swine flu on campus. Once the school is closed, school officials should also cancel gatherings such as sports or social events. To prevent further spread of the flu, parents should not allow their children to get together with other students, or send them to daycare, during the time the school is shut down.

Once a school closes, when will it reopen?

According to the CDC, the school should resume normal operations only after no other confirmed cases have been reported for 14 days after the last case of swine flu. It's up to the school district and local health officials to make that decision.

What should I do if I suspect my child has the swine flu?

Make sure you keep your child at home, and alert your school of his absence. Don't send him to school or daycare. You should call your doctor, but there is no need to go to the doctor's office or the emergency room or to have your child tested unless his symptoms are severe (high fever, difficulty breathing or other symptoms that don't improve after several days). In most reported cases, symptoms have been mild and gone away without medical intervention. Do give your child fluids and over-the-counter pain relievers as necessary.

If my school shuts down or if I have to keep my child at home, how do I make sure he doesn't fall behind in his schoolwork?

Ask your child's teacher if there are assignments he can do, books he can read or Web-based learning he can engage in to keep up. In California, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell is urging schools that are closed to provide learning packets, distance learning or Web-based instruction for their students.

If my school is supposed to give state standardized tests and it shuts down, what will happen?

The state Departments of Education and the U.S. Department of Education are working closely with school districts to be flexible and make accommodations for schools that are closed during this period. They'll reschedule the tests as necessary.