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The Progressive

A Teacher’s View of How to Stop an H1N1 Pandemic

Stili Klikizos

As a second-grade teacher in a Milwaukee public school, I’m worried about the swine flu.

Not so much for me, but for my students and their parents.

I know that parents are supposed to keep kids home if they have symptoms. But for too many parents, staying home from work is not a reality because they can’t afford to lose a paycheck or a job.

I call parents when a child falls sick, but often they can’t come until after work. Some are forced to drop a sick child at school in the morning. After a few minutes, I can see the student is ill. Most parents hate doing this, but they have no choice.

I remember a mother who left work to pick up her sick child — and lost her job cleaning hotel rooms. Later she would leave the child who was sick at home with the older daughter, who herself was in middle school.

Last school year, a girl who turned 8 in the fall was out several days. Where was she? “Home watching my brother,” she said. He’s 4. When I asked why, she replied, “He was sick, and my mother was working.”

I remember a student who told me, “I can’t tell my mom I’m sick because if she comes to get me, she’ll lose her job.”

I have an old couch in my classroom. I had it reupholstered a few years ago for my reading corner. It’s turned into my sick couch. I’ve learned to have multiple layers of coverings — I peel one off when a kid is sick, and take that cover home to wash.

I try to isolate kids who are sick and take care of them, but it’s difficult because the other students need my attention.

After the swine flu outbreak, four students closest to my desk became the swine flu group. First a boy had it, then the girl next to him, then the girl across from him.

A parent or child who’s sick should be able to go to the doctor, rest for a couple days, and then come back to work or school healthy.

What happens now is not fair to sick kids or their parents, and it’s not fair to the rest of the students or the teachers. Harsh economic conditions are compelling parents to send their sick kids to school. This is how the epidemic spreads.

There is a solution: guaranteed paid sick leave. If a parent can stay home with a sick child without fear of losing wages, much less a job, then we can help quarantine the swine flu. Most advanced industrialized countries already have paid sick leave.

By not having it, we in the United States are accelerating the pace of this global epidemic.

I don’t want my school to be shut down by the swine flu. And I don’t want my students needlessly afflicted by it.

Yes, we should wash our hands and turn our heads into our sleeves when we sneeze or cough.

But we should also change our workplace policies so that parents can tend to their sick children at home without fear of repercussions.

It’s the humane thing to do, and it’s all a sensible public health policy — especially during an epidemic.

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Stili Klikizos is a teacher in the Milwaukee public schools and a member of the organization 9to5. She can be reached at

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