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State, Pleasanton schools focusing in preventing swine flu outbreaks

Hand-washing campaigns, follow ups on students home sick with the flu are under way

With the number of flu cases increasing in some parts of the country, the California Department of Education today released a manual to help schools deal with the H1N1 virus and future influenza outbreaks.

At the same time, the Pleasanton school district said it is focusing on prevention as talk of a return of the H1N1 virus, or the swine flu, circulates.

"We are making sure to stay in contact with the city and we have somebody assigned to participate in the county's meetings on the swine flu," said district spokeswoman Myla Grasso.

Prevention is the key, she added, saying elementary schools are launching a hand-washing campaign and most district classrooms currently provide hand sanitizer.

In San Jose today, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell announced the release of a draft of the "Pandemic Influenza Planning Manual" at a news conference held at Los Alamitos Elementary School.

"Our top priority is to make sure that our students and our staff are as safe as possible while they're at school,' O'Connell said.

The manual, a state-specific supplement to the guidance provided for schools by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Dept of Education, covers a range of topics.

The information includes recommendations and resources available for: preparedness and prevention; notification and reporting procedures for students' dismissals; and fiscal impacts of extended school, district, or statewide student dismissals if ordered by a public health officer due to pandemic influenza.

O'Connell said the manual will be distributed to students, teachers, school staff and school nurses to review for the next 30 to 60 days.

The document will be available on the California Department of Education website at http://www.cde.ca.gov.

"It is my hope that people will offer their feedback so that we can produce the best possible publication for our schools," O'Connell said.

O'Connell also addressed concerns from school districts about the appropriateness of using alcohol-based sanitizers in schools.

"Alcohol-based sanitizers are absolutely appropriate and legal to use in schools," he said.

He also encouraged the practice of "tried and true" precautionary hygiene habits such as washing hands, sneezing into the arm, covering the nose and mouth, and using hand sanitizer.

The H1N1 virus "is a threat to all of us, but we need not panic," he said. "Our schools are safe."

In Pleasanton, Grasso said the district is monitoring absences by tudents who are complaining of flu-like symptoms and that district representatives may follow up with families to encourage them to see healthcare providers.

Grasso said the availability of staff is also a concern, but that schools wouldn't be closed unless there was an attempt to control transmission.

Parents should take note of the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when sending children back to school. It recommends having children return after being fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-suppressing medication.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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