The H1N1 flu has moved steadily through Colorado’s schoolchildren since August, but it may be about to peak, health officials told the State Board of Education Wednesday.

StockH1N1100709“The H1N1 wave is here, and we’re in the middle of it,” said Dr. Ned Calonge of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “The contagiousness is high, and it really goes through school kids quickly. … We’ve really seen the H1N1 take off.” But, Calonge added that the peak should hit in the next week or so and then decline, following the usual pattern of seasonal flu.

Since last spring public health officers have advised schools not to close because of H1N1.

Calonge said closing schools “doesn’t really mitigate the community spread” and that kids will just catch the bug elsewhere if they’re not in school.

The decision to close a school should be based on educational effectiveness – whether there are enough kids to teach and enough staff to teach them, Calonge said.

Kathy Patrick, a nurse who coordinates health activities for the Colorado Department of Education, said only a handful of schools have closed, and none for longer than a week.

Patrick said parents need to keep sick kids home for at least 24 hours after fever is over, and that schools should call parents and send children home as soon as illness is noticed.

“The best thing we have is to keep the kids who are ill and the kids who are well separated,” Calonge said.

Both stressed the importance of vaccinations. “Our goal is to get as many children vaccinated as possible,” Patrick said. “We will promote the vaccine as the best way to stop the flu,” Calonge added.

“Vaccination is entirely voluntary,” Calonge stressed. “There’s a lot of angst and concern … worry that the state’s going to mandate this. … The state has no authority to mandate.”

Calonge said the state hopes to receive 1 million doses of H1N1 vaccine and also usually gives about 1 million seasonal flu vaccinations a year.

Board member Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, asked if people who receive shots are warned of possible side effects of vaccination and went on to say, “I just don’t know if we’re overreacting … it’s not the plague, it’s the flu.”

Calonge agreed that “It’s the flu,” but he stressed that vaccination carries fewer health risks than do getting the flu or being hospitalized.


The incredible shrinking budget

It looks like the Department of Education’s aid to summer school programs for at-risk students is on the budget chopping block.

CDE staffers briefed the board on the latest thinking from the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting. That agency is racing to finish its 2010-11 budget plan, due to the legislative Joint Budget Committee Nov. 2.

The OSPB wants to cut four CDE programs – all funded out of the State Education
Fund. Those include the $1 million in summer school grants, $1 million for the department’s 12 regional service areas, $40,000 for financial literacy programs and $10,000 for the Colorado History Day program.

Off the cutting table, at least for now, are $5 million for charter school facilities, the $2.3 million Read to Achieve program, $1.8 million for the Closing the Achievement Gap program, $448,250 for CDE content specialists and $75,000 for the school leadership academy, according to budget staffer Jeff Blanford.

The summer school grants are used for intensive instruction in reading, math and writing for students in grades 5 to 8 who scored unsatisfactory on the CSAP tests.

Work on CSAP replacement ramps up

A panel of 30-some education experts will convene later this month to begin work on choosing a new statewide testing system for Colorado schools. The Assessment Stakeholders Committee, including K-12, higher education and business representatives, will meet Oct. 26 in Denver to begin the first phase of the project – deciding what the main features of a new testing system should be.

The 2008 Colorado Achievement Plans for Kids calls for the state board to adopt new assessments by December 2010.

Also in CAP4K news: The well-known Denver consulting and research firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates has been awarded a $150,000 CDE contract to study the potential costs of implementing CAP4K. The law calls for a series of three reports on costs, due next March, a year from now and in October 2011. The APA award, which went through the state’s complicated bidding process, comes as no surprise to anyone.

Teachers TELL all

The board Wednesday also got a report on the Teaching, Empowering, Leading & Learning Initiative, a survey of teacher and administrator opinions about working and other conditions, which was conducted earlier this year.

Lisa Medler, the CDE administrator overseeing the project, said, “we were pretty happy” with the response rate and that “teachers and principals were pretty positive.”

About 36 percent of eligible educators responded to the online survey.

Board member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, said, “You always wonder about non-responders; are they as happy?” But, she noted that survey would be increasingly useful after it’s been done several times. It’s intended that it will be conducted every two years. States that have done such surveys for several cycles have seen increased participation on each successful survey.

For more information, see the TELL website and this previous EdNews story.

The board also meets Thursday. Among agenda items are revised rules for implementation of state laws governing permissible uses of restraint on schoolchildren.

Board agendas and documents (links on upper left of page)