Two years before the emergence of novel H1N1 virus, Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) formed a unique partnership with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) to collaborate on pandemic influenza preparedness efforts. Initial planning resulted in the formation of a school-based Emergency Advisory Council to discuss policy issues related to school closure, develop a K-12 math and science distance learning curriculum for use during prolonged school closures and to research free/reduced-lunch programs during school closures.
This partnership was strengthened during the 2009 H1N1 response. Throughout the spring and summer, ADE and ADHS ramped up their planning and response efforts by including ADE staff on the ADHS Community Mitigation Task Force. Three ADE representatives consistently met with internal ADHS staff, including one ADHS Project Manager to assist in coordinating activities. The task force met at least once a week during the busiest response time as new CDC guidance was released. This task force reviewed CDC guidance and assisted ADE in creating a comprehensive K-12 School Closure Guidance that included all policies developed through the Emergency Advisory council. ADHS and ADE monitored school closures during the spring and fall months. ADE also worked closely with local health departments in making school closure decisions and facilitated partnerships between local health and local school districts.
Several schools closed during the spring response; ADE and ADHS held a school closure debriefing conference with the school administrators and state and local public health to capture lessons learned and best practices. Because schools were closed for only a short period of time, few of the formal policies were utilized. However, local school districts and school administrators and local public health departments established strong relationships because of the response. For example, many school closure decisions were made jointly between the school administrator and the local health officer. Informal calls were made frequently between these two groups to make quick but responsible decisions regarding school closure. One local health officer was specifically instrumental in the 2009 spring and fall school closures, reopening and ensuring schools remained open to minimize the impact on children, staff, and personnel. Dr. Bob England, of the Maricopa Department of Public Health, and his close working relationships with Maricopa County schools were featured in an article published by the Arizona School Board Association.
Future planning and response activities include preparing for a debriefing following the second H1N1 wave of illnesses, distributing temperature monitoring supplies to all Arizona schools, and enhancing existing Multi-Hazard School Safety training for school administrators by adding a pandemic influenza track to the training.