Introduction

Seasonal influenza, typically called “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses that infect the respiratory system (nose throat, lungs). Symptoms range from fever, dry cough, runny nose and muscle aches that could potentially lead to pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, and other more severe complications. Influenza can cause illness in all ages and in some cases can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications.

A pandemic flu occurs when a new influenza virus for which people have no immunity spreads among the populations around the world. If an influenza pandemic should occur, the incidence of serious illness and death from influenza will likely increase significantly. Because it is a new virus, it may take six months or longer to develop a pandemic flu vaccine.

Flu can spread quickly, especially when large groups of individuals gather, like in the educational setting. Droplets from the nose or mouth spread the flu virus from person to person, typically through coughing and sneezing. School staff and students are often in close contact, sharing the same space, supplies and equipment for long periods of time. Therefore, they are at risk of spreading flu and other illnesses to each other.

In the event of a health crisis such as a pandemic flu, it may become necessary to modify school operations; however, that can only be determined based on the characteristics of the specific pandemic and the extent of spread through individual communities.

Purpose

Protecting the health of students, staff and the community from highly contagious, infectious diseases like pandemic influenza is a high priority for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCC Schools). The WJCC Schools Pandemic Flu Response Plan provides a framework for the school division to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a pandemic outbreak and any resulting factors that may impact the division’s ability to remain fully operational.

This plan was originally developed in 2008 with input from the Peninsula Department of Health (PDH) and is based on guidance from the Virginia Department of Health (VDOH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The plan was updated in February 2020 and reviewed by PDH staff.

Authorities

In Virginia, and locally in Williamsburg and James City County, various agencies and public officials have overlapping authority when it comes to protecting public health and safety. Should a pandemic event take place, WJCC Schools will work collaboratively with state and local health experts, emergency management staff from Williamsburg and James City County and state and federal officials to:

  • Limit (as possible) the spread of illness;
  • Provide continuity of school functions; and
  • Minimize the loss of instruction.

According to the Code of Virginia § 44-146.17(7), the Governor of Virginia has authority to declare a state of emergency when the safety and welfare of the people of Virginia require emergency measures due to a threat of or actual disaster.

According to the Code of Virginia § 32.1-43, the State Health Commissioner has the authority to require quarantine and/or isolation under exceptional circumstances when any communicable disease becomes a public health threat.

Local school boards and superintendents have the power to close school (inherent in Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia).).

In Accordance with WJCC Schools Policy ICA, the superintendent has the authority to amend any adopted school calendar in the event of inclement weather or emergency conditions.

School Division Actions Related to a Flu Pandemic

Pandemic Description

  • New influenza virus subtype detected in humans.
  • No human-to-human spread, or at most rare instances of spread to a close contact.
  • Small clusters of human infection occurring with limited human-to-human transmission.

WJCC Action Steps

  • Build awareness among health services staff related to new virus.
  • Communicate appropriate information to staff, students, and families regarding general flu prevention and healthy habits.
  • Establish baseline absentee rates and develop a method for tracking flu-related student and staff absences
  • Review and update Pandemic Response plans as needed based on CDC and VDOH information specific to current virus.
  • Ensure best practices for cleaning and disinfecting schools and buses are being followed.
  • Follow guidance or direction from Virginia and federal officials.

Pandemic Description

  • Larger clusters of human infection by human-to-human spread.
  • No cases of virus reported in Virginia.

WJCC Action Steps

  • Ensure best practices for cleaning and disinfecting schools and buses are being followed daily.
  • Maintain ongoing communication with Peninsula Health Department.
  • Monitor CDC, VDOH, and World Health Organization (WHO) websites and announcements for guidance and information.
  • Ensure appropriate supplies and resources are available for student and staff protection.
  • Continue heightened surveillance of absences and share information with VDOH as required.
  • Identify an area away from others for individuals who may have the flu until picked up by a parent/guardian.
  • Send sick children and staff members home in accordance with health department guidance.
  • Create instructional action teams by school, grade level, or content area to develop learning activities and materials that may be delivered electronically or by paper packet to students in the event that school operations are adjusted.
  • Assess school and division needs and essential functions that will need to continue in the event of an extended school closure.
  • Cross-train department staff on essential functions to ensure continuity in case of staff illness.
  • Evaluate contingency plans in the event of future food shortages or the need to serve meals in classrooms to avoid large gatherings of students in the cafeteria (Child Nutrition Services staff).
  • Increase communication with staff and families about VDOH and CDC guidance for preventing the spread of flu and viruses. This includes use of the division’s rapid notification system and website.
  • Follow guidance or direction from Virginia and federal officials.

Pandemic Description

  • Larger clusters of human infection by human-to-human spread.
  • Cases of illness reported in Virginia, but not in Williamsburg, James City County, or immediately surrounding municipalities.
  • At least one illness reported Williamsburg, James City County

WJCC Action Steps

  • Increase collaboration with VDOH, PDH, regional health partners and local emergency managers.
  • Review (superintendent, operations director, health and student services, school leadership team) with VDOH and Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) the potential need to modify school operations (field trips, activities, etc.) and restrict use of school buildings/campuses by the community, or potential school closure.
  • Ensure best practices for cleaning and disinfecting schools and buses are being followed multiple times a day with special attention to school clinics. Adjust custodial staff schedules, if necessary.
  • When possible, use spacing strategies and social distancing to decrease contact with others who may be infected but not displaying symptoms (increasing distances between desks, limit group activities, avoid prolonged congregation in hallways and common areas, etc.)
  • Consider delivery of bag meals to classrooms as a means of social distancing.
  • Departments of student services, school leadership, and operations coordinate informational meetings with school nurses and school administrators to review best practices, expectations, and steps to deep clean and secure buildings, if necessary.
  • Provide support and materials to schools for distribution of instructional activities that can be completed at home in the event of a modified school schedule or closure. This may include paper/pencil or online activities based on availability of technology and internet access.
  • Communicate division plans which may include suspension of activities and/or adjustment of school schedules. Information should also be shared about plans to deliver instruction in the event that schools are closed.
  • Provide information to employees related specifically to professional travel, leave requirements, and preparation/expectations for potential closure.
  • Follow guidance or direction from Virginia and federal officials.

Pandemic Description

  • Larger or localized clusters of human infection by human-to-human spread.
  • Cases of WJCC Schools student or staff illness reported.

WJCC Action Steps

  • Increase frequency of briefings from and collaboration with VDOH, PDH, regional health partners and local emergency managers.
  • Continue heightened surveillance of absences and share information with VDOH as required.
  • Ensure best practices for cleaning and disinfecting schools and buses are being followed multiple times a day with special attention to school clinics. Adjust custodial staff schedules, if necessary.
  • Review (superintendent, operations director, health and student services, school leadership team) with VDOH and VDOE the potential need to cancel school and restrict use of school buildings/campuses by the community.
  • Adjust school schedule and/or close schools if needed.
  • Distribute learning activities/materials and instructions for completion to students in the days just prior to school closure
  • Communicate division closure/ adjusted schedule plans and provide related resources to families, staff, and the media.

Pandemic Description

  • Outbreak of illness has slowed.
  • Public Health risk is reduced.
  • Due to unpredictability of a pandemic, recovery activities/strategies may be used at any point of the pandemic or be used in phases.

WJCC Action Steps

  • Resume regular school schedules and operations as soon as possible.
  • Review (superintendent, operations director, health and student services, school leadership team) with VDOH and VDOE a timeline for re-opening of schools.
  • Re-open schools in phases or in entirety based on pockets of continued illness.
  • Adjust school calendar further, if needed, to provide teachers adequate time to review and grade student work completed during school closure.
  • Restock cleaning and health supplies at schools and offices.
  • Monitor student and staff absences and report to health department officials.
  • Prepare for a potential second wave of illness.
  • Provide information about signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress to administrators, school counselors and teachers.
  • Mobilize Student Services staff to provide emotional or psychological support as necessary based on students and staff experiencing loss of loved ones or other trauma. Request assistance of community health officials as needed.
  • Ensure staff are made aware of Employee Assistance Program and other resources available to cope with stress, grief, or anxiety.
  • Conduct post-pandemic evaluation of planning and response with school, health and emergency management officials.

Conclusion

A pandemic influenza event will have widespread effects on the citizens of the Commonwealth. Because each event will be unique, this plan provides a framework for WJCC Schools staff to work from, while still allowing flexibility to react to ever-changing conditions.

WJCC Schools is committed to ensuring continuity of student learning and providing a safe and secure environment for students and staff. As such, this plan will be reviewed annually to reflect current practices, technology and available resources to support coordinated planning and response to a pandemic.

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