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Students, Staff To Get Free Flu Shots

Halifax County school students and staff will be able to take the H1N1 influenza vaccine at no charge when it becomes available this fall. At its meeting Monday night, the Halifax County School Board approved the proposed plan to be implemented should a widespread outbreak of Novel influenza A H1N1 (swine flu) occur locally.

Assistant Superintendent Larry Clark and Southside Health District Director Dr. Charles Devine presented the plan to the school board. Clark said the school system is continuing to work with the Centers For Disease Control, Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Virginia Department of Education, and Dr. Devine preparing for the event of an outbreak of swine flu.

Under the provisions of the plan and the memorandum of agreement with the VDH, students and staff in the school system would be given the opportunity to receive the H1N1 influenza vaccine free when it becomes available.

Devine assured the school board that vaccination of students would be only with parental consent, and parents would have the choice not to have the vaccine administered to their children.

Vaccinations will be administered by health department nurses with the assistance of school nurses at various school locations, Devine said, adding the vaccine should be available sometime in October. The H1N1 vaccine should be taken in addition to the regular seasonal influenza vaccine, he advised.

“We’re so pleased to be working with Dr. Devine and all his staff,” said Superintendent Paul Stapleton. “We will just be assisting in this. The lead will come from the department of health and from Dr. Devine’s office. This is not an educational issue, it’s a health issue, so we’ll take Dr. Devine’s lead and go with that.”

Clark said students and parents received information about the virus in a letter from the school system and the VDH, and the information also appeared in the newspaper.

He said the seven school nurses are proactive in monitoring infection levels and appropriate control procedures, sharing good hygiene practices and serving as a source of information in the schools to which they are assigned.

Clark also said principals, school maintenance personnel, custodians and food service personnel have received a recent update from Director of Maintenance Larry Roller concerning the necessity of “deep cleaning” in school buildings as the flu season approaches.

When questioned about the possibility of closing schools for a period of time should there be an outbreak of swine flu resulting in high levels of absenteeism among teachers and students, Clark said the determination is a “work in progress” and would be concluded with input from the VDH and other relevant stakeholders.

Board Chairman Steve Anderson asked if flu outbreak was confined to a certain area, could they close one school or would they have to close all schools in the system. Clark said because of the dual transportation system, it would be possible to close one school and leave the others open.

When Anderson asked about the required minimum of days of instruction, Stapleton said because of pandemic conditions, the state department probably would make allowances for school systems forced to close schools for periods of time.

Clark added they would look at all options to make up days within the school calendar, but if it came to a division-wide closure, considering the guidance of the Virginia Department of Education regarding required days of instruction, the school board may be forced to look at extending the school year into the month of June.

“We have leeway there because very wisely, we started school very early this year,” Clark said. “Our closure at the end of May gives you plenty of time if in fact a school year had to be extended.”