Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

August 18, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Schools and Swine Flu


  • Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne updates us on what schools are doing to prepare for what could be a swine flu outbreak this school year.
Guests:
  • Tom Horne - Arizona Superintendeant of Public Instuction
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. No one knows just how bad the swine flu might get this upcoming season, but schools are gearing up just in case. Part of that planning includes preparing for a large number of students and staff to be out with the virus. Here to talk about how schools are getting ready for a return of the swine flu is Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne. Good to see you again.

Tom Horne:
Great to be here.

Ted Simons:
When are you expecting the next wave to hit?

Tom Horne:
Right off the bat. As kids get back to school, it will spread.

Ted Simons:
Compare and contrast with what happened earlier in the year.

Tom Horne:
It will be worse. This is a pandemic. I don't want to get you depressed but there were only three pandemics in the century, what we're facing is the second wave.

Ted Simons:
What plans are in place?

Tom Horne:
Every district and charter school needs a plan and we've given them a lot of information. They need a response team. Communication set up. How the response team communicates with itself and the rest of the school and parents and students to let them know if school is closed or whatever and they need to be prepared, obviously.

Ted Simons:
And the line of authority for closing schools?

Tom Horne:
The county health department, the state health department, the governor, or the school -- the school board can make a decision to close schools.

Ted Simons:
Sick kid at school, maybe a lot of sick kids at school, that day, that morning, they come down and they're sick; what happens?

Tom Horne:
The best thing for them -- to go home if there's somebody there to take care of them. Some schools have set up separate rooms so they won't infect the other students.

Ted Simons:
Are there mandated separate rooms?

Tom Horne:
No, we don't have authority to mandate things. We can only send out memos giving information, telling them what planning consists of. How we would suggest they plan for things. They need communications already written to send out if they need to at the last minute.

Ted Simons:
There's probably a lot of instances where the kid gets sick and there's no one to take care of the kid and if there's no area to keep the kid, what do you do?

Tom Horne:
It would be a good idea to have an area, and you know, like last spring we had a school that discouraged a teacher from going home when they were sick and could spread it. In our memo, we encourage people to go home if they're going to spread sickness to other people. Last spring we were sort of inclined to closing -- inclined to closing schools down. The federal government is saying not to do that except in extreme circumstances. Put the responsibility on the parent if the student is sick. Keep them home until 24 hours after everything is passed. There's a shift to put the responsibility on the parent.

Ted Simons:
What plans are in place if a lot of students and/or teachers are so sick they can't make it to school?

Tom Horne:
If you have a lack of teachers and lack of kids at the same time, it probably evens itself out but the planning responsibility is placed with the district or the charter school. And they need to plan for these things.

Ted Simons:
I know funding for these districts and education funding in general is often based on attendance and student population and how many kid are in the classroom.

Tom Horne:
I have the power to waive that, so if there's a lot of absenteeism because of a pandemic, I can wave it and they can get their full funding.

Ted Simons:
There's a hundred day dividing line?

Tom Horne:
Yes, the attendance is calculated for the first 100 days and that sets the funding in the case of district schools for the following year.

Ted Simons:
So after 100 days, it doesn't matter, but before that, you have to figure out if there's a lot of kids missing from one school.

Tom Horne:
That's correct.

Ted Simons:
Is there a vaccination plan in place for schools?

Tom Horne:
That's in the hands of the health department. The federal government is setting up priorities and that sort of thing.

Ted Simons:
Do you know of any in place right now?

Tom Horne:
I don't. You mentioned the 100 days, that's irrational. We should be measuring the whole year-round. I think it's historic from when things were calculated with quill pens and big bound books and they didn't have computers. We can calculate on a daily basis and we should be doing that. I suggested to the legislature they change it to the full year. Organizations that I've referred to, core organizations that protect the status quo, objected because they were afraid it would cut their funding. But what you have now is district schools and charter schools both accusing each other of sending -- getting rid of students on the 101st day and the district schools sending the charter schools -- it makes no sense to cut it off.

Ted Simons:
In this situation, you don't want a school afraid or hesitant to send a child home because they're afraid it might cut into funding if all of a sudden, half the second grade is sick.

Tom Horne:
You certainly don't, but I do have the authority to make exceptions if it's a result of pandemic, and I certainly will do that.

Ted Simons:
Last question. How much of an impact was the H1N1 when it hit last spring, how much did it impact education in Arizona?

Tom Horne:
Only a few schools closed as I remember. It will be bigger this time. But we're going to try to avoid closing schools and try to make sure it's the parents' responsibility and the schools will be teaching the kids hygiene. Wash your hands, cover your nose and don't put your fingers in your eyes or nose and that's how it gets inside. So there's a lot of educating to do. It's part of our job. Good hygiene methods to minimize the spread of sickness.

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