Educators share H1N1 preparedness plans

Schools are urged to prepare in advance of an H1N1 outbreak.
Schools are urged to prepare in advance of an H1N1 outbreak.

As H1N1 virus-related illnesses continue to increase, schools are hoping to keep students healthy and avoid closures–but many already have plans in place to sustain learning and keep students on track if prolonged absences or school closures become a reality.

During a webinar hosted late last month by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), officials from several districts across the country discussed their school-closure procedures and plans for monitoring H1N1 outbreaks.

“The department believes technology has an important role to play in education, and the current H1N1 pandemic is an example of the role that technology can play,” said Larkin Tackett, with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Tackett said Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes schools should focus on maintaining the continuity of learning in the midst of H1N1 outbreaks, using print and online resources to help achieve this goal.

For homebound students, educators should prepare hard-copy packets and/or online materials, record class meetings, or virtually pull students into live classes, Tackett said. He said school leaders also should think about how to provide non-instructional services online, such as college-counseling support.

Communication is key in continuing learning during prolonged absences or school closures. School leaders must determine how affected parties will communicate, how students will understand and access available academic resources and other supports from home, what equipment and resources are available or will need to be acquired to enable school and district learning plans to continue, and what additional training might be necessary for teachers to respond adequately.

“We recognize that available resources are going to play a part in determining how each school will respond, and schools are approaching things with different resource levels,” Tackett said.

Potential avenues to consider include digital instructional tools, phone or video conferencing, webinar support, online courses and virtual classrooms, and virtual server capacity.

Harold Rowe, associate superintendent for technology and school services with Texas’ Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, said his district used its emergency notification system, school web site, and television channel when it closed on short notice as a result of the H1N1 outbreak in the spring.

“We expedited requests to online content providers and developed our own online materials as rapidly as we could,” Rowe said. The 81-campus, 104,000-student district also refreshed print materials and made copies as quickly as possible.

Laura Ascione
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