School boards preparing for H1N1 outbreak

Peggy Revell

With another school year just around the corner, the local public and separate boards are hoping to prevent one thing from returning with students: the H1N1 ’flu virus.
“At this point in time, we’re really just focusing on preventative measures,” said Darlene Madill, communications officer for the Rainy River District School Board, noting that as part of this, custodians are continuing with their regular disinfection processes for surface cleaning.
Madill added the public board currently is following the advice and guidance provided by the Northwestern Health Unit since they are the ones who have the expertise to assess the level of health risk for any specific situation.
As for possible school closures in the face of an H1N1 outbreak, Madill said if school absenteeism due to illness reaches or exceeds 10 percent, the board will be contacting the health unit for further advice on how it should proceed.
“We’re making resources available in all of our schools regarding proper hand-washing methods, and ways to cover your cough properly,” she explained, adding school principals also will be provided with resources to send home letters to parents and keep them updated.
Madill also noted the board’s website ( has a link to the health unit’s website ( so people can get timely information when it comes to the H1N1 virus.
Meanwhile, the Northwest Catholic District School Board also has been in continued contact with the health unit, Education Director Mary Catherine Kelly said, to ensure it is getting the best information possible as well as to monitor if there are any changes or progressions with the spread of the H1N1 virus.
Part of its plan for the upcoming school year includes the promoting of proper hand-washing, properly covering sneezes, and staying home if students or staff feel ill.
The Catholic board also is increasing vigilance with regards to cleaning and disinfectant practices, Kelly noted, especially when it comes to cleaning surfaces like door knobs, fountains, and other surfaces that frequently are touched by numerous people.
Following memos sent home back in the spring, the board plans to continue with this practice once school resumes next week.
“We’ve prepared another reminder letter to our whole community—the trustees, staff, and parents and guardians that we are still asking for them to be vigilant in these practices and that we request that students and staff don’t attend school if they have a confirmed case of the H1N1 virus until medical clearance is received from a doctor,” Kelly said.
She added the board is trying to reinforce what the provincial health ministry has been promoting when it comes to ’flu prevention and information.
Catholic board principals also will be watching attendance to keep track of absenteeism, Kelly said, so if they’re seeing a higher number of students being away, they may know there is a ’flu going around.
“We also want to make sure that our schools are staffed safely,” she noted, saying this is a part of the board’s own pandemic plan that it continually evaluates and reviews.
“That’s why we have thresholds in place, based on school population and number of students and number of staff, to ensure that we can always keep our schools well supervised and up and operational,” Kelly stressed.
“Our thresholds that we set are really on a school by school basis, depending on student need,” explained Dina Gardiman, the Catholic board’s human resources administrator who is in charge of health and safety.
“Some of our schools have higher needs children that would require, say for instance, an [educational assistant] with them, so we had to include those in our threshold.”
The Catholic board’s pandemic plan—available at its website (—is a “working, living document,” Gardiman noted, and will change as needed, such as if the number of students change.
And while they are working to do their part, both schools boards also are asking parents to take preventive steps.
“If [parents] suspect that their child is getting the ’flu, it’s important that the child does not attend school or go anywhere else, such as sporting events or public venues where other people would go and be exposed to the ’flu germs,” Madill stressed.
“It’s also important [for parents] to teach their children how to reduce their risk of getting the ’flu, and protect others from infection, by teaching them to wash their hands often, teaching them to keep their hands away from their face and avoid touching their mouth, nose, eyes, [and] also to cover their coughs and sneezes with tissues or by coughing into the inside of their elbow.
“And just help their children to learn healthy habits by setting a good example and always doing them yourself,” she added.