Learning at Home | Making Up Days | Testing Delayed

May 2009

The H1N1 flu disrupted the lives of many more people than it actually made sick, especially families with school-age children. School closures topped 700 nationwide, leaving more than half a million students stranded at home and parents scrambling for care.

H1N1 flu is often called swine flu because the virus that causes it is similar to one found in pigs. However, the H1N1 virus is also similar to other flu viruses found in birds and humans, and it cannot be contracted through eating or handling pork products. Health officials believe that H1N1 flu spreads the same way as other flu viruses, making it possible for a sick student to infect others.

Initially, school administrators were generally directed to close for at least seven days if even one student or teacher tested positive. As time passed, U.S. cases of H1N1 flu were generally no more severe than seasonal influenza, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that schools remain open and that the sick student or teacher stay home.

The softer stance should mean fewer school closings and more kids getting back to class, says Massie Ritsch, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education. “The number of school closings should drop rapidly,” Ritsch says.

But with so many schools that chose to close even for a short time, families may continue to feel the impact of the flu as teachers and administrators scramble to make up for lost classroom days.

Learning at Home

When kids unexpectedly get time off from school, it’s tough to keep them focused on their studies. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged teachers and parents to make sure learning continued for healthy students who were stranded at home during closures. Some teachers provided assignments, although in other cases parents were left to figure it out on their own.

If your kids are still home from school and in need of educational activities, start by visiting these government websites:

Making Up Days

Most districts build wiggle room into the calendar to allow for inclement weather. Schools that haven’t used all these days probably won’t have to adjust their schedules too much, but some schools don’t have any to spare. They’re required by law to have students in class for a minimum number of days, meaning students and teachers will have to make up the time or seek a waiver from the state for a shorter school year.

For parents who chose to keep their kids home even though their school was officially open, administrators will decide whether to count the absences as excused or unexcused. School districts have varying policies on how many unexcused absences are allowed and what the penalty is for having too many. Check with your child’s school or district to find out more.

Taking Standardized Tests

Schools were closed in 24 states and Washington, D.C., as a result of the H1N1 flu. In Texas, the state with the most closures, mandatory state testing for many students was delayed. Most students can take their tests as soon as they return to school. The tests will still be scored in time for accountability reports, according to the Texas Education Agency. The biggest concern is for high school seniors who need to pass tests to graduate. They may take their tests up to a week before graduation, Texas school officials said.

Other states have responded similarly to testing concerns. Check with your child’s principal to find out the plan for making sure all testing is completed in time.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.