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School Absence Hotline Helps Track Sick Students

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Aired 11/18/09

An absence hotline at a Poway elementary school is helping campus officials identify student health problems before they get out-of-control.

— An absence hotline at a Poway elementary school is helping campus officials identify student health problems before they get out-of-control.

Parents at Monterey Ridge Elementary School used to call-in or leave a message if their child was home sick. Now when they call, they respond to questions like this:

Have you taken your child's temperature? Is there a rash? Sore throat? Runny or stuffy nose? Which ones?

Through a series of prerecorded questions, parents provide quick and accurate information about their child's health.

UC San Diego professor David Kirsh developed the call-in system. He secured a $200,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to test the hotline at the Poway school.

Principal Richard Newman say before he had very little information on the health and safety of his students.

“Now we know (if) there's 12 students out, two of them might be out for colds, three might have flues, and one might be on vacation,” Newman said. “(The system) quickly tracks (if the students) are siblings, if they’re in the same class, if they’re in the same grade, if they’re in the same building.”

Those clues could help school health officials identify an influenza outbreak, the spread of other contagious diseases, or a biological attack.

Newman says he's getting calls from other principals wanting the same system at their schools. That could happen if the pilot program is successful.

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