Schools preparing for H1N1 cases
Putnam County schools are preparing and putting policies in place for possible outbreaks of the H1N1 flu virus.
Heather Williams, whose 12-year-old son attends Greencastle Middle School, had concerns when she heard rumors that several students in the Greencastle Community Schools district -- which includes Greencastle High and Middle schools, Ridpath and Deer Meadow elementary schools Tzouanakis Intermediate School -- had come down with H1N1.
Williams wondered why the school corporation did not notify parents.
"I'm very upset about it," she said. "I think we all need to know no matter what school it is. Our kids ride the buses together. I'm very concerned. My son doesn't just go to school; he also does extracurricular activities. It's silly to say our children haven't been exposed just because they don't all go to the same schools."
Shawn Gobert, school safety specialist for Greencastle Community Schools and principal of Greencastle Middle School, said parents were not notified because, to his knowledge, there were no absolute confirmed cases of H1N1 in the district.
"There have not been any confirmed cases that I know of," he said. "I would be hesitant to say absolutely that there have not been any."
A sample letter for schools to send to parents about confirmed cases of H1N1 is available at the Indiana State Department of Health Web site (www.in.gov/flu). Gobert said even if there were confirmed cases of H1N1 in the Greencastle schools, that letter would likely not have been sent to parents.
"There are so many suggestions for what to do in different situations," he said. "Whether or not to send a letter is really a judgment call."
Gobert said, however, that school officials were assembling H1N1 information packets that would be sent home with students in the coming days. The packet will contain a consent form for parents who would like their children to receive the H1N1 vaccine through the schools.
"We're working with the (Putnam County) health department on that," Gobert said.
Williams appreciated that Greencastle did not want to cause any hysteria.
"They don't want to start a panic; I get that," she said. "But my son has asthma and he's at a higher risk. When the teenage girl was approached at a bus stop, we all got a recorded phone notification about it and I was glad we did. That was a horrible thing and we needed to know about it. I was floored that we didn't get any notification about this. We can't just shrug this off."
Gobert said parents with students in Greencastle schools have been told that if their children have any flu-like symptoms they should keep them at home.
"The local doctor's offices don't test specifically for H1N1," he said. "There could be 20 cases in our schools right now. Statistically, we probably do have students who have or have had H1N1."
Gobert said parents can inadvertently cause problems by saying their children have H1N1 when they don't really know that's the case.
"They may suspect their children have it, but they can't say for sure because the reality is they haven't been tested for it," he said. "There's nothing more parents or the schools can do. H1N1 is not really any different than seasonal flu."
Mary Scamahorn, director of New Pathways licensed daycare in Greencastle, said none of the children in the center had been diagnosed with H1N1.
"But we are licensed, so if we do have a child diagnosed we would be required to notify parents," she said. "We would send home notes."
A small number of students in the South Putnam School Corporation have been reported to have the flu, said Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt.
"But none have been confirmed as H1N1," he added.
Gobert said it would be easy to mistake seasonal or viral flu for H1N1, as they all have similar symptoms. While there have been some flu-related absences at GMS, it has not reached crisis level.
"We're at about 5 percent absenteeism, which is no cause for alarm," he said.
South Putnam students are encouraged to use good hygiene practices, such as washing hands thoroughly and covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing.
Should a child fall ill while at school, Bernhardt said the child is isolated and immediately sent home. They are not allowed to return to school until they have been fever free without medication for 24 hours.
"That is the directive from the health department," said Bernhardt. "We are working in connection with the health department."
Students in both the South Putnam and Cloverdale school districts will be given the chance to receive the H1N1 shot. Permission slips will be sent home with every student.
"We are providing the building, but the health department is providing the shot," said Cloverdale Superintendent Carrie Milner.
Cloverdale is following the same procedure as South Putnam when a child falls ill -- sending the student home immediately.
"I think the county has done a good job informing the schools on H1N1," Milner added.