As Flu Season Closes Schools, Principals Group Pushes for At-Home Learning, Support Staff
While school administrators nationwide struggle with the flu season, the National Association of Secondary School Principals works alongside them with an advocacy agenda that prioritizes school nurses and at-home learning opportunities.
Principals around the country have their hands full this winter, as they seek to create a safe and healthy learning environment for students during flu season.
“This flu season continues to hit schools pretty hard,” said Bob Farrace, CAE, director of public affairs for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). “Not only are big percentages of students calling out sick, but it’s testing the strength of the bench of substitute teachers, and there are rarely enough qualified subs to fill the short-term assignments. So schools are districts are doing the most responsible thing they can by closing schools to curtail the spread of infection.”
In fact, this season’s flu epidemic has caused schools in at least 12 states to close. Farrace explained that these “calamity closures” are nothing new to schools; winter weather also shutters schools from time to time. And, in 2009, the fear around the H1N1 virus caused schools in at least eight states to close.
While Farrace does acknowledge that these closures put a strain on parents and caregivers who need to find alternative care for their kids, he adds that a school administrator’s fundamental responsibility is to ensure a safe learning environment. “This flu season is making that environment really hard to safeguard,” he said.
However, to ensure learning continuity during the flu season, some secondary school principals have protocols in place for teachers to deliver virtual lessons to students who are able to participate.
“The flu-related closures put a spotlight on the gap in learning opportunities for kids at home,” Farrace said. “There are still a lot of homes that don’t have broadband access, and NASSP has been advocating to close this ‘homework gap’ for the past several years. … Nothing casts the digital divide in starker contrast than having some kids with broadband continuing their learning, while other kids without broadband can’t access the resources.”
In addition to closing the homework gap, NASSP is also advocating on behalf of school nurses and other support staff whose work keeps kids safe in schools. “The effort to repeal Obamacare would have also meant a reduction in Medicaid funds in schools for school nurses and other support professionals who are instrumental in curtailing the flu spreading in schools,” he said.
But putting advocacy efforts aside, NASSP is recommending that students and staff take care of their health first.
“When you’re sick, your priority task is to get healthy,” Farrace said. “Not much high-quality learning is going to happen for a kid who is battling the flu.”
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