By Dr. Larry Feinsod
Item: In central New Jersey, four public schools closed because of an outbreak of a severe respiratory illness.
Item: School closures due to the illness occurred in 12 states.
Item: Across the country, 19 pediatric deaths resulted from the illness.
The date is January 2019, and the illness is Type B influenza. But the parallels—along with the advice issued at that time—can serve as an excellent starting point as school leaders prepare for the current threat of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Prior to the Type B influenza outbreak, when I served as an executive county superintendent of schools, public education faced the threat of another flu pandemic. At the time, state and federal agencies and the New Jersey School Boards Association offered critical information on methods of prevention and plans and strategies if confronted with an outbreak.
As I write this column, thus far, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in our state. Nonetheless, New Jersey health officials indicate that individuals have been—and are continuing to be—tested for the virus. Moreover, last week’s message from the director of the CDC’s Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, should give everyone in the education community pause. To paraphrase her words: It’s not a question of if there will be a spread of COVID-19 in the United States, but a matter of when it will occur.
But rather than causing panic, the CDC official’s comments should support local school leaders who have appropriate plans in place. Based on previously recommended strategies for disease prevention and existing plans to deal with potential health crises, many strategies already exist.
COVID-19 Online Resources As a service to our members, NJSBA has developed an online resource page, offering information and guidance on how to prepare for a possible coronavirus outbreak. The resource page is included in this week’s School Board Notes.
Much of the information included in the page was developed in response to the current coronavirus threat:
- Interim Guidance for Administrators of US Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Developed by the CDC, this online reference includes a section on “Guidance for schools which do not have COVID-19 identified in their community.”
- COVID-19: Preparing for Widespread Illness in Your School Community. Developed by the National School Boards Association, in collaboration with the National Association of School Nurses, the document addresses “Planning for COVID-19 Challenges in Your School District,” offers links to resources from the health agencies, and includes a “COVID-19 Planning Checklist.”
Other references on the NJSBA resource page will include the American Association of School Administrators and the New Jersey Department of Health.
The New Jersey School Boards Association Policy Service also serves as a valuable resource, offering model polices addressing contagious illnesses, districtwide health policies, home instruction, emergencies and disaster preparedness, and school closings. Many of these model policies will be linked to NJSBA’s resource page. As always, members can contact NJSBA’s policy consultants for information.
NJSBA will update the COVID-19 resource page to include announcements from state education and health officials.
Going forward, our focus should remain on accurate information about disease transmission, as well as timely and appropriate communication with parents, students, staff and the community at large.
These elements should guide us in any health crisis we may face.
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 2, 2020