Schools that continue to be open are fighting the flu with proactive steps

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - As multiple school districts across the Tennessee Valley close so students can rest and combat the flu, the districts that remain open are being careful and taking proactive steps to stop the spread of germs during the school day.

In Huntsville City Schools, they are stepping up their regimen according to Edward Smith III, Huntsville City Schools Facilities Coordinator. That includes a new product the district is testing out, which looks like a green squirt-gun that disperses disinfectant.

"We've bought a product called the Victory Sprayer. We are trying to kill all the germs and bacteria that we can, broadly," he said. "We are doing it during the day, at night, and so we can do it in a timely fashion. We can cover a lot of ground."

The district staff already do other things that Smith says continue to occur in schools: "We also utilize a three-part cleaning system that helps us to make sure we don't cross-contaminate surfaces. We are trying to do this comprehensively."

Jennifer Rigney, a second-grade teacher at Whitesburg P-8, said she's seeing more sickness in the classroom. Teachers are on the front lines of the flu fight, and they are often the ones who can quickly recognize when a student is not acting like themselves or feeling badly. They can also encourage proper hygiene, even in the youngest of students.

"I'm encouraging them to sneeze and cough in their arm," Rigney said. "And if they do it in their hand by accident they have to get up and wash their hands."

According to Rigney, parents are also stepping up by donating wipes and disinfectants to her classroom.

"We are cleaning our rooms every day," she said, noting that this work goes on in addition to what the custodial staff provides.

The in-school clinics and nursing staff are also key in the fight against flu.

"We have masks available if students are exhibiting flu symptoms," said Andrea Penn, HCS Health Services Coordinator. "We're also assessing any students that teachers send down to the clinic."

She explained some ways parents can help act as the first line of defense. "Make sure that you're teaching your children good hand washing and hygiene procedures. And if your child is ill or appears ill, keep them at home."

In Madison City Schools, we found cleaning crews hard at work Thursday. The district has custodial staff night and day all the time, but they also have a floor crew. During this time, they have asked the floor crew to help with additional sanitizing and disinfecting all common areas in every school.

Bonnie Davis, the school system nurse, said the district continues to see above normal absenteeism primarily from flu, but also from strep and stomach viruses.

In an email, she stated,

"While it has predominately been in the elementary schools, we are starting to see an increase in the middle and high schools. Both students and staff have been affected.
There have been spotty cases of a class or a grade hit harder than the others, just not an entire school where 20 percent would generally be cause to consider closing. We have actually seen improvement in some schools. However, now is not the time to let down our guard.

We are diligently cleaning schools and are continuing to urge parents to keep sick kids at home and not let them return until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of medications.

Our Operations & Safety Division has tasked our floor cleaning crews with disinfectant cleanings of common areas (doorknobs, handrails, water fountains, etc.) to stay ahead of the situation. It takes all of us working together to get through this worse-than-normal flu season."

Kerry Wilkerson, Chief Operations Officer, says Madison County Schools are also taking extra precautions daily, "Focusing on cleaning any surfaces where students have contact," he said via email. "The school staff is working with the students, keeping their hands washed and being aware of students that may show symptoms of the flu. "

For more about cleaning your own home to prevent the spread of germs, click here.