As H1N1 makes its ugly way around our country, superintendents are faced with the dilemma: To close school or not to close school?
The federal government at first recommended closing schools as a last resort. But the feds don't have a "local constituency" that they see every day. Last month a local school district decided to take fed's advice and remained open as over a third of the students stayed home either with the flu or as a precaution. The superintendent, interviewed daily by the local news media, insisted that despite the high number of absences, it was “business as usual” at school. At a community “Information night” angry parents made it clear that in their opinion, “business as usual” did not include putting their children at risk for H1N1.
It’s a dilemma for superintendents. On the one hand, closing schools means that no children are receiving an education. On the other hand, when large numbers of students are absent, teachers often provide study halls or review material already covered rather than continue instruction for just a handful of kids. This choice is self-defeating, of course, because healthy secondary students who recognize they’ll be treading water may prefer just to stay home anyway.
Closing school for several days can result in unintended community problems as well. Parents may have to stay home from work. Some children may find themselves home alone. Children dependent on the meal programs at school may not receive the nutrition they need.
Closing school takes the burden off parents regarding whether to send their child to school when there is an outbreak of flu. Most will be understandably relieved not to have to make the decision even if finding childcare is a problem.
The CDC now says that whether to keep schools open during an outbreak of H1N1 should be a local decision, and its suggested guidelines can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/schools/technicalreport.htm#dismiss.
It’s a tough call, but most districts will probably do well to err on the side of caution.