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California School Fiscal Services

Providing comprehensive business office and consulting services to K-12 traditional schools and charters

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U.S. Schools Take Precautions Amid Ebola Fears

Posted on October 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM
I'm sure you all are watching the Ebola nightmare as it continues to unfold in both Texas and New York.  While we all watch and worry, taking a proactive approach to the very real possibility that Ebola will end up in California will serve our respective schools well.

What can you do now?  

First, get educated.  Take a look at the resources that are being provided to New York and Texas schools and start developing a plan for your own schools.  You don't want to wait until there is a problem to start talking about a plan of action.

Check out the New York Department of Health's web page on Ebola.  They provide some excellent resources that may help get you started.

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Schools are responding to fears of an Ebola outbreak by drafting first-of-a-kind policies that include isolating students, querying parents about travel and requiring documents showing a clean bill of health for new enrollees from West Africa.

 

Schools typically have protocols for communicable diseases, but educators are tweaking existing practices or adopting new ones in the face of a disease not seen in America before. The planning is occurring well beyond Texas—where a Liberian patient was diagnosed with the virus and two health-care workers became infected—in states such as Louisiana, Maryland and Georgia.

 

Precautions include rules allowing superintendents to close schools, Ebola risk assessments for all children registering for school, and measures to ensure quarantined students are provided homework and instruction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Education are also expected to issue more-detailed guidelines on how schools should respond to Ebola.

 

“It’s important schools are communicating what they would do well in advance,” said Tom Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “It provides comfort.”

 

 

Some public health experts say elements of the policies are excessive, and could fuel already heightened fears about Ebola’s spread. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids.

 

“I can understand wanting to be prepared,” said Arthur Reingold, a professor in the public health school at the University of California, Berkeley. “But most of these school districts will never encounter a student with contact with the three countries [in Africa which have seen an Ebola outbreak]. It’s a legitimate concern but an overreaction.”

 

The DeKalb County School District in Georgia on Oct. 15 notified principals and administrators that no new students from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea—as well as affected areas in the U.S.—would be enrolled or allowed to attend classes without medical documentation and approval by the superintendent. These students must present a passport that shows their date of entry into the U.S. and documents proving they received an examination from Emory Wellness Travel Clinic in Atlanta.

 

In Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, parents will be asked about recent travel to outbreak-affected countries if their child has a fever and symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. The child may be isolated in a school’s health room or another predetermined area.

The New York Department of Health on Oct. 14 sent out guidance to public schools, private schools and child-care centers. It asks students who have recently traveled to an affected area and develop a fever or other symptoms to be seen by a school nurse, who will call 911.

“I’m glad schools are thinking about it, but I don’t think they need to think about it this much,” said Vanessa Goldberg-Drossman, whose 5-year-old son attends a public charter school in New York City.

 

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week adopted emergency rules allowing superintendents to close schools in the case of a public health emergency such as Ebola.

The sudden attention being paid by schools to Ebola seems misplaced, said Charles Calisher, a professor emeritus at Colorado State University and author of “Lifting the Impenetrable Veil: From Yellow Fever to Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever and SARS.”

 

“To single out Ebola seems ridiculous,” he said. “I can think of lots of things American should worry about, but not Ebola.”

 

New infectious-disease guidelines released Wednesday by the Texas Association of School Boards aim to strike a balance between caution and calm. They call for canceling sports and field trips in the face of legitimate contagion risk. But they warn against generally blocking attendance for students who aren’t showing illness symptoms.

 

“There is a sense of wanting to take every precaution but not flaming of unnecessary alarm,” said Joy Baskin, director of legal services at the association, a nonprofit that represents the state’s school districts.

In Connecticut, concerns about Ebola bubbled up last week after a Yale University student who had returned from Liberia went to Yale-New Haven Hospital with Ebola-like symptoms. The student tested negative.

 

Parents of children registering in the New Haven Public School System in Connecticut will be asked if anyone in the family or household has traveled or resided in an Ebola-affected country within the last 21 days, said Paul Kowalski, acting director of the New Haven Health Department.

 

“I’m more concerned about people getting their flu shot, but it’s in the public eye, so we have to get information out,” he said.

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