1. Archive


In Hillsborough, officials explain how the district will utilize masks and vaccinations.

Across the Tampa Bay area, school districts aren't yet seeing the mass swine flu absences that health officials have predicted.

But the H1N1 jitters are well under way.

On Tuesday, Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia sought to tamp down concerns raised by media reports that students would be wearing surgical masks in schools if they displayed flu symptoms.

"This is not for every child to have a mask, okay?" she told the School Board. "They are distributed to the schools so that the nurses who see a child who they think has symptoms can have the child wear the mask until the parent picks them up."

Under existing policies in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, students with a fever and other flu symptoms are isolated until parents comes to school to bring them home. Students will wear masks while they're waiting in the nurse's office, but they won't walk around school or return to class, officials said.

Elia said parental concerns about the H1N1 virus prompted her and Hillsborough County health director Doug Holt to make an automated call last weekend to separate fact from fiction.

It's true the district and Health Department will be vaccinating students at school to protect them against swine flu, once a vaccine arrives in mid October. But children won't be vaccinated unless their parents have signed a consent form, she said.

Still, Valrico parent Pamela Neidig said she was worried about the health risks of vaccinating every student. And she said schools and teachers shouldn't take on those risks unless they are prepared to cope with potential allergic reactions to a new vaccine.

"The chances are low, but it could happen," she said. "I really believe that a medical setting is the best place to vaccinate children."

A few board members echoed those concerns, saying the district should research its legal liability and perhaps address such concerns on the permission slip, which has not yet been sent to families.

Elia said the district would continue to partner with the Health Department in making such decisions, and would keep families informed.

"This is a public health emergency," she said. "Any parent who has a concern similar to hers should make that decision based on what they want for their child."

Times staff writers Ron Matus, Jeffrey Solochek and Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at or (813) 226-3400.