Monday, May 4, 2009

Open Letter #2 re: Swine Flu

This is a reprint of an email I sent out today to a number of parents who contacted me over the past 24 hours:

Dear concerned parents and community members,

Please forgive the blanket response, but I have received quite a few emails and phone calls on this topic, so it is difficult to give personal responses to everyone. First let me state that I understand the frustration you are feeling and have great sympathy for all those affected. If this were my child and my money, I would be very upset.

The current situation, which seems to change daily, is being closely monitored by the District and the Board. We are aware that many health officials have advised that travel bans are not necessary and certainly if this were a simple family vacation, that would be the end of the discussion (for me personally, in any case.) I would rely on the advice of health officials, weigh in the possible risk and in all likelihood decide that the benefits of the trip far outweighed the possible risk. However, as an organization in charge of thousands of students and staff, it is more complex. We must evaluate how other countries are implementing their pandemic plans and how Canada is being perceived as a site of the pandemic (after Mexico and the USA). We must be aware that Canadians today were quarantined simply because they are from Canada, not because they were displaying any flu symptoms. With a pig herd in Alberta being identified as the first to pick up the virus from humans, how will this impact world perception of Alberta in particular? No one knows. There are many world variables that we as a District cannot control. The school trip is an extension of the school environment and we are charged with providing a safe school environment as job #1. Our definition of safety is more far-reaching than simply protecting them from contracting the swine flu.

It has been suggested to me that we should leave the decision regarding personal safety to individual parents and individual staff members. We could have parents sign additional waivers to assume any additional liability. But how do we protect our staff? How comfortable would a staff member feel expressing concern about the added responsibility of traveling at this time? If the teacher decides not to go, the trip could be canceled due to lack of teacher supervision and then all the parental concern and disappointment would be focused on the staff member. In my opinion, that would not be fair. I understand that some staff are eager to continue with the trips and do not feel burdened with any additional complications. This may be true, but it may also be true that other teachers are feeling anxious, trying to imagine at what point they would seek medical attention for a child with a cough and what might happen to the supervision of the other students, if the group was “down” one adult. We as a Board must consider all these variables.

I am a parent of two children and I accept risk every day as an integral part of their healthy development. I believe children need to be allowed to grow without a constant cloud of fear and anxiety. I send them to the park on their own. I let them bounce on the trampoline. However, I would be less likely to feel “okay” with this same level of risk if I was in charge of my neighbour’s child. I give this analogy to help people understand why the District is being so cautious (in some opinions, “over-reacting”). At the same time, the Board is listening to parents. We are listening to the health officials and Ministers in the provincial government. We are well aware that we are one of only a handful of school boards to take this step and if an amendment is deemed necessary, we recognize the value in rendering a decision sooner rather than later. I can assure you that no one is taking this lightly and we are exploring alternatives that we can all live with.

Whatever decision the Board arrives at, it will be imperative that we clearly communicate the reasons behind the decision and all the valuable input we have considered. I have been and will continue to post on my blog as one avenue to continue the dialogue and build two-way communication.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I do appreciate your input.


Best regards,

Sue


3 comments:

Martin G said...

Thank you for your open letter. The situation in China is unique. I very much doubt that the authorities in London or Costa Rica would quarantine groups of school children simply because of they were from Canada or, in the case of Quebec, from Alberta.

As I write this response, the vote has not occurred. Whatever direction the vote goes, the Superintendent created this mess by a premature decision. If the decsion had not been made in the first place, many of the quandries you describe (eg. teachers feeling uncomfortable about travelling)and which the Board must now take into account would simply not exist.

I agree that the board has a duty of care that extends futher than protecting students from the flu. However, outside the risk factors for the flu itself and some tiny ancillary risk related to the H1N1 outbreak, the Board had already accepted this risk.

Thanks again

Martin G said...

Thank you for your open letter.

The situation you refer to in China is unique. I very much doubt that the authorities in London or Costa Rica would quarantine groups of school children simply because of they were from Canada or, in the case of Quebec, from Alberta. Bringing up the case in China simply adds to anxiety, but does not advance an argument against the current EPSB bans.

As I write this response, the vote has not occurred. Whatever direction the vote goes, this mess was created by a premature decision to ban travel without sufficient evidence to warrant the decision. If the decsion to ban travel had not been made in the first place, many of the quandries you describe (eg. teachers feeling uncomfortable about travelling)and which the Board must now take into account would simply not exist. It is the Superindent's and the Board's responsibility to resolve the problems it has created by its own decsions--which might include working to restore trust between parents and the Board and ensuring that parents and students can have confidence in its decsions.

I agree that the board has a duty of care that extends futher than protecting students from the flu. However, outside the risk factors for the flu itself and some tiny ancillary risk related to the H1N1 outbreak, the Board had already accepted this risk for school trips. This should be a non issue.

Thanks again

Sue Huff said...

Thank you Martin G for continuing the dialogue with me. I do not have all the answers and clearly no one has a crystal ball to predict what will happen next. However, having an opportunity to "talk through" my concerns and thoughts is a critical step for an informed decision on my part. I believe the best answers come from many minds, so I appreciate the chance to strengthen my thinking in this collaborative dialogue.