Rep. Israel proposes swine flu legislation for schools

St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows was

St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows was closed in April after students became ill with swine flu. (Credit: Patrick Andrade)

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Mary Pappas knew something was amiss on an April morning when the nurse's office she oversees at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens was filled with students sick with fever, not the usual bumps and bruises.

Pappas, a registered nurse, didn't know at the time that she was dealing with the first cases of the H1N1 flu virus in New York. She and her two assistants at the school in Fresh Meadows were so overwhelmed as more than 100 children flooded the office that she enlisted the help of school security guards. She asked them to take each child's temperature, write it on a sticky note, place the note on the child and then have the child call his or her mother.

"That was just my idea to keep things moving," Pappas said Thursday at a news conference where Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) cited her experience as he proposed legislation calling for $20 million in federal grants to train school nurses and other staff as first responders and crisis managers for such a scenario.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that a second wave of the H1N1 flu could arrive this fall.

"Last year we were caught by surprise," Israel said at the news conference at the Guy DiPietro Learning Center in Brentwood. "There are no excuses not to be prepared to protect and defend our children, teachers and administrators in our schools."

Pappas said having staff trained to deal with a disease outbreak would "be better for the kids, teachers, everyone involved."

Israel said the proposal, labeled the School Protection Act of 2009, also will help tamp down on the misinformation and confusion of the spring.

"This bill will provide very specific training to nurses and school administrators on how to identify the disease and how to contain it," Israel said, "including fundamental decisions on whether to stay open or closed."

Israel said the grants could also be used for training nurses to respond to biological or chemical attacks. His bill calls for the grants to be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Israel said he will submit the legislation when Congress is back in session on Sept. 8.

"H1N1 is a federal problem," Israel said. "It's a national health emergency and we shouldn't expect our local schools to pick up the tab and be sole defenders against it."

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