Because cases of the H1N1 (SWINE) flu in other states have led to school closings in recent days, the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) is issuing this memo regarding the possibility of the necessary closing of a school or schools in Arkansas. This memo will address:
1) the determination of when schools should close;
2) steps to follow while schools are closed; and
3) steps to take to reopen.
1) Ark. Code Ann. § 20-7-109 grants authority to the Director of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to close public and private schools to prevent the spread of communicable disease. Therefore, the ADH, working with the ADE, will follow Centers of Disease Control (CDC) guidelines regarding the closing of schools due to suspected or confirmed cases of H1N1 (swine) flu.
The Health Department states that if the first case of swine (H1N1) flu in Arkansas is found in a school, the ADH would recommend that the school be closed for fourteen days but that school closure decisions would be made on a case by case basis and may change based on the latest data available to ADH.
As stated in Commissioner’s Memo COM-09-169, students or staff who present with flu-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing, headache, body aches, and sometimes diarrhea and/or vomiting) should be sent home and told to contact a physician. A physician with the Health Department will then consult with the ADE regarding next steps.
2) Once the decision to close a school has been made, there is likely to be a great deal of media attention on the affected school or schools. The ADE Office of Communications staff is available to provide support and/or advice for media relations or to serve as the school’s contact for media if that is preferred.
Attached is a list of questions and answers that are likely to be topics of reporters’ or community members’ questions. If multiple school districts are affected, the ADE Office of Communications, working with ADH communications staff, will serve as the central clearinghouse for school-related information. Cooperation from school districts will be expected.
3) The ADH, working with the Arkansas Department of Education, will make the final determination as to when schools closed because of the H1N1 (SWINE) flu are able to reopen and will work with schools on necessary steps they must take to reopen. School districts should have participated in training through the ADH and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) as well as developed a school district disaster management plan. Please refer to these plans in reopening.
Also, consider these steps before or when reopening:
• While a school is closed, all surfaces, bathrooms and kitchens should be cleaned with household disinfectants labeled for use against bacteria and viruses or with a mixture that is one (1) part household bleach to ten (10) parts water.
• If a school facility, during closure, has been used by the county for other means to respond to the pandemic and remediation is required, the county judge will form a request through ADEM
• When it is safe to reopen, schools may need to provide for access to mental health services on campus. School districts unable to meet the need with local resources should contact ADE then ADH.