Cape Elizabeth schools eye swine flu precautions, laptop computer alternatives

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CAPE ELIZABETH — School teachers and administrators were in workshops this week in preparation for the start of the school year on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

Much attention over the last several weeks has been given to a possible outbreak of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, this fall. Superintendent of Schools Alan Hawkins and the three school nurses recently attended a statewide meeting on that topic, organized by the Maine Center for Disease Control to help create action plans at the local and state levels.

Advice for parents and students coming out of that meeting has been simple.

“Wash your hands, cough in your sleeve, and stay home when you’re sick. Get the vaccine when it’s available,” Hawkins said on his school Web site blog, which will be updated throughout the school year.

That is the same advice given by school nurses last spring during the initial outbreak, he said.

“No one knows what the impact of the fall flu season will be until we’re in the middle of it,” he added. “But how severe the flu becomes this fall will depend on how seriously each of us takes action to reduce the risk now.”

Another focus for this school year will be technology, despite the School Board’s decision not to fund a computer initiative that would have put a laptop device in the hands of every high school student. The program, endorsed by the state, but difficult for many school districts to participate in because of state and local budget cuts, would have cost Cape Elizabeth $133,000 each year for four years. Because state subsidies to the school district fell this year, and because stimulus funds were not available, much of that cost would have been borne by taxpayers.

The middle school laptop program, which gives computers to all seventh- and eighth-graders, is still being funded, along with a program that gives laptops to all high school and middle school teachers.

In order to make the most of the laptops that are available in the school system, the district’s three technology integrators (one in each school) will help teachers “to effectively utilize technology in classrooms and the real world,” Hawkins said. “Although we don’t have one-to-one hardware at the high school, the work of these integrators will help open new doors that will make differences in the long-term abilities of each and every Cape Elizabeth student now and in the future.”

Other area school districts, including Portland, have recently begun looking at using netbook PCs rather than Apple laptops, in order to cut costs. That possibility came up briefly in Cape Elizabeth during budget discussions last spring, but was never acted upon.

School starts for students Tuesday, Sept. 1. Pond Cove Elementary students will be in school from 8:35 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. Middle school students will be in class from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and the high school is in session from 7:55 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or