Germ warfare: Schools go on offense against flu

Posted: Tuesday, September 22, 2009

There's a new line of defense in the battle against the flu in schools.

Photo By Will Morrow
Photo By Will Morrow
Madison Rickert, right, dispenses hand sanitizer to her classmates, from left, Dakota Daniels, Hana Tibbetts, Simon Grenier and Kyle Sackman in Kim Trammell's kindergarten class at Nikiski North Star Elementary School on Monday. The class uses hand sanitizer in conjunction with trips to the restroom, before lunch and after recess.

Little soldiers stand ready near desks, next to sinks, one posted in almost every classroom, loaded with latest in virus and bacteria killing technology.

In an effort to keep students healthy this year against the H1N1 virus, formerly referred to as the swine flu, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has made available a legion of bottles of hand sanitizer for students and staff.

"It's become very apparent that hand washing and sanitization is very important in the care of the students and keeping the spread of the H1N1 to a minimum," said Dave Jones, assistant superintendent for the district.

The hygiene product is joining the ranks of pencils and notebooks when it comes to classroom supplies as schools across the country make it available in hallways and classrooms.

The district has had the sanitizing solution available in area schools for the last few weeks, but has been pushing a message of improved cold and flu prevention since the school year kicked off.

The district sent out a letter to parents and posted to the Web site, the importance of containing the spread of the flu by washing hands, covering up sneezes and coughs and staying home when ill.

It appears the hand cleaning solution is getting some use as well.

A recent visit to Kenai Middle School showed that students and teachers were tapping the industrial-sized bottles in the classrooms regularly.

A bottle even sits at the ready at the school office for visitors and parents.

Ken Felchle, a teacher at KMS, said he and his colleagues are helping to set an example by making use of the solution.

"I think they (students) see us using it so they're doing it," he said.

Some students seem to be more aware that this year that the threat of catching the flu is a little more serious than it has been in the past.

For example, Rochelle Horbacz, also a teacher at KMS, said she has one student who makes a habit of filling up a personal-sized bottle of the sanitizer each day.

Others take a more casual approach she said, explaining that some of her students will go do it more as a way to stand up, move around and stretch their legs during class.

Felchle said he's also seen more good old-fashioned hand washing as well.

"If I go in the bathroom I see people actually scrubbing their hands, where it hasn't always been that way in the school," he said.

Whether the extra emphasis on flu prevention has kept students healthier so far this year isn't clear, but the KMS teachers said they hadn't noticed a significant number of absences.

"Just in sickness in general, if this prevents H1N1, it also prevents the common cold and a lot of those things, and I haven't seen a lot of kids absent. It's been great. Kids that have been gone have been gone because they're on hunting and fishing trips," said KMS teacher Tim Sandahl.

Educators have found other ways to limit germ exposure elsewhere as well.

Terry McBee, a former district teacher who was substitute teaching at KMS on Monday, said his wife, Virginia McBee, a kindergarten teacher at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, started handing out small disposable paper cubs to her students at the beginning of each day after concern was expressed about the health and safety of water fountains.

Dante Petri can be reached at

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