Swine Flu Back-to-School Guidance Released by Feds

Photo: Schools Open Facing Fears About Swine Flu Closures: Government To Release Guidelines Friday To Help Educators Make H1N1 Decisions

With back-to-school season just around the corner, federal health and education officials today are not suggesting drastic K-12 schools closures where students have already caught swine flu.

Instead they're releasing guidance for schools that outlines what schools can do while keeping doors open -- and have loosened their recommendation for the amount of time sick students and teachers should stay home.

If the flu does not get any more severe, the advice is for those sick with swine flu to stay home just 24 hours after their fever subsides and they are off of fever medications rather than holing up for seven days as previously instructed, Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said today.

"We are relying on the science for the guidance we are providing," added Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Watch "World News With Charles Gibson" tonight at 6:30 ET for the full report.

Still, there is a list of specific advice for preventing the spread of the virus while learning continues.

"Ill students and staff should be separated and given protected gear such as a mask until they can leave the school," Napolitano said. "Hand washing and cough covering are essential."

Today Kim Dockery, assistant superintendant at Fairfax County Schools in Virginia, told ABC News that part of that school system's plan is to teach a health curriculum to students in the first two weeks of the school year that stresses those very tips.

Dockery said that's just one of several preparations underway, including bringing in masks and more hand sanitizer.

"We're preparing online resources so that parents can access materials if kids are out," she said. "We're also preparing principals and schools to be flexible and be able to respond to whatever situation might come up. We don't know the severity of the disease, we don't know how much vaccine will be available, so we're planning a lot of eventualities."

Advocating "prevention, close monitoring and common sense," Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the father of a second grader and a kindergartener, said it's also a good idea to think about how to keep sick kids engaged from home, whether by considering temporary home schooling, or lessons via phone and the internet. Duncan also suggested there be a room set aside at schools where sick kids can go until they head home.

The secretaries added that ultimately decisions must balance the disruptions caused at school with the risk of swine flu spreading -- and those decisions must be made locally.

They added that schools for pregnant teenagers, students with medical conditions and other vulnerable populations should consider taking more stringent measures and more seriously consider closing schools.

If and only if the swine flu virus takes a more deadly turn, they said all K-12 schools should consider more dramatic measures, like actively checking students and staff for fever, moving desks farther apart in that case, and staying home longer to prevent swine flu's spread.

Meantime, only 45 percent of schools have a full-time nurse and a quarter of schools don't have one at all, according to the National Association of School Nurses.

So far, however, they are confident there's no need for panic.

"What we are seeing looks very much like seasonal flu so far," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

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