From NBC's Winston Wilde
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius acknowledged there is a significant chance of school disruptions in the upcoming flu season, due to H1N1 "swine flu."
At a press conference this morning in front of H.D. Cooke Elementary School, Duncan said, "Some schools may experience large absentee rates; some across the country may even need to be closed temporarily at some point during the school year. We must make sure that learning continues if the virus spreads. That is hugely important."
He added that the goal for schools nationwide is "to keep our children safe and keep our children learning."
The Department of Education released instructions to schools today on how to be ready for any possible disruption due to H1N1, including having homework packages ready for students while they must stay home, having online resources accessible from the home (Apple and Microsoft representatives were present at the school, according to Duncan), and maintaining close contact with parents, so they can keep their kids up to speed on curricula.
The H1N1 vaccine will be ready by mid-October. Once available, kids will be one of the "priority populations," and both the Department of Education and HHS are reaching out to schools to make sure parents remember to make vaccinations a priority.
While the H1N1 vaccine is still in its testing phases, Sebelius emphasized mitigation strategies, like remembering to wash hands, coughing into shirtsleeves instead of coughing into a hand or worse yet, not covering a mouth, and to stay home -- students and teachers alike -- if they develop flu symptoms.
HHS distributed to elementary school s its "Avoid the Flu" resource kits, and of course, has a flu Web site, with guidance for K-12, colleges and universities, and businesses.
After the press conference, Sebelius and Duncan toured the school to see its health facilities and green initiatives and ate a breakfast with the children in the cafeteria.