School district fights spread of germs

Flu season is that dreaded time of year when we wonder not if we?ll get sick but when.

The Centers for Disease Control says that flu season lasts from October to May, almost the entire school year. Teachers and students know this all too well. Being in close quarters makes it easy for viruses to spread from one host to another. But this year, it seems the viruses have been sticking around longer than usual.

Washington Elementary School principal Jeff Eeling told the school board in March that attendance in his building was down 2 percent from last year because of influenza.

?The kids are just not getting over it,? he said. ?Kids don?t know enough to cough away from you.?

Pence Elementary and Fairfield Middle School nurse Heather Miller asks parents to report their student?s symptoms if they?re staying home from school due to vomiting, sore throat, diarrhea, or any other potentially contagious disease.

If 10 percent of the student body is missing on a given day, Miller alerts the Iowa Department of Public Health, Jefferson County Public Health, superintendent Laurie Noll and all the principals.

?This helps our community partners conduct surveillance for influenza in Iowa,? she said. ?During these periods when the state of Iowa feels influenza illness is circulating, a weekly map with schools who have reported 10 percent absenteeism is sent to the school health officials so we are aware of other school districts and counties that are being affected. It?s very similar to watching a weather radar come across the state!?


Does the district encourage students to stay home so they don?t infect others?

?Yes, of course,? Miller said.

Students are allowed six absences a year where parents can report an illness that may not require a medical visit. On occasion, students are not permitted to attend if they have received a certain diagnosis. For instance, students sent home for a fever are not allowed to return until their fever is gone for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing agents. A fever is considered running a temperature of 100 degrees or higher.


What happens to students with extended absences?

Students are given two days to complete missed work for every day they are sick. For extended absences resulting from surgery, hospitalizations or chronic illness, educators meet with the student?s parents to determine a schedule for getting them up to speed with their classmates.


Do teachers educate students about how to avoid spreading germs?

Miller said teachers and nurses make every attempt to encourage students to use the hand-sanitizing stations in the classroom when they cough or sneeze directly on their skin. Teachers also lead students in cleaning their desks with sanitizing wipes upon their return from an illness.

Signs are posted in the bathrooms informing students of good hand-washing techniques and how they should cover their cough.