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Area schools on watch for H1N1 virus; Willmar puts plan in place

Common sense will rule the day for area school officials as they face the possibility of H1N1 flu outbreaks this school year.

Schools are installing hand sanitizer dispensers and planning to instruct students and staff on proper procedures. They will keep families in-formed through Web sites and other means. But a specific plan is hard to develop when the extent of the threat is unknown.

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Wednesday that he and his staff have some plans for addressing an outbreak, but the circumstan-ces will dictate their response to any kind of outbreak.

The district has worked closely with the Kandiyohi County Health Department and plans to continue, Kjergaard said.

"We'll implement what we're told to do and keep parents abreast of what's happening," he said. The district will use its Web site and letters to communicate with families, he added.

Kjergaard said administrators and school nurses will be meeting next week. "What we'll do is talk and plan about it ahead of time," he said. A big concern to him is that "this flu didn't go away in the summer."

Whether schools close will depend on a number of factors, including how many students and how many staff members are ill, Kjergaard said.

"Teachers are one of those professions, they show up even when they're sick," Kjergaard said. He'd be speaking seriously about that when he welcomes the staff back next week, he said. "We don't need them to come to school if they're sick."

But if enough teachers are ill, schools could face a challenge in finding enough substitute teachers, said Benson Superintendent Lee Westrum.

Recommendations of how to handle the illness have evolved over the summer. Schools last spring were closing because of just a few flu cases, and that probably won't happen this school year, Westrum said. A suggestion that people with the flu stay home for seven days has been revised. Now, it's recommended that people resume activities after being fever-free for 24 hours, he said.

"The emphasis will be on getting kids to wash their hands," Westrum said. "It really boils down to common sense -- wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home when you're sick."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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