A Certain Lack of Focus

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Super Bug Difficulties

On WCPN a few days ago there was a talk about the risk from the "super bug" and how best to prevent it.*
superbugMRSA is becoming more common in hospitals and now it's starting to turn up in schools, and people are kind of panicking. The general conclusion seemed to be that the best way to keep yourself and your children safe from MRSA is to frequently wash your hands (and make sure they do as well) with soap and water (no matter whether or not it's antibacterial), and make sure your doctors do the same (frightening that you might need to police your doctors and nurses as much as you do children). This is a pretty commonsense answer, but one of the speakers did bring up an interesting problem that I hadn't considered. With kids at least, many schools do not allow children to wash their hands before, say, eating lunch.

Now one of the experts on the show said this appalled her, not just because of the current health issue, but because it undermines a basic tradition of most families, washing hands before eating is kind of one of those basic lessons children learn before they remember learning it, like: look both ways before crossing the street, don't talk to strangers, and don't put the knife back in the peanut butter jar after you lick it. handwashWhen I first heard this, I'll admit, I also thought not LETTING children wash their hands before eating was ridiculous, but when you think about it, as Dan Moulthrop (the show's host) pointed out, it kind of makes sense.

For the sake of simplicity, imagine a school which is made up of a single thirty student class of first graders. Now let's say it's lunch time, should the teacher release all thirty students at once to the bathroom? Talk about a bad idea. Of course this problem is pretty simple, this small class could easily be released in groups of five, no more than three boys or girls at one time. It would take a bit of time to manage, but not really a big deal.

Only there's no such thing as a school made up of just first graders, and even a thirty student classroom is pretty optimistic these days. What happens when two or three classes have lunch at the same time? What if the entire school eats at once? Again, these single problems are easily solved by staggering times, but as the variables increase the solutions get a bit stickier, and the end result is a logistical nightmare. The more children you have roaming free the easier it is to lose track of a child (or ten), and this is generally frowned upon at schools.

sinksOne possibility is to have the teacher escort the class, but then again you have a bathroom full of children all at once, disaster waiting to happen since the teacher can obviously not supervise both the Girls and the Boys room. If the teacher has an aide or two this might be easier, but with faculty-student ratios shrinking (spreading? I'm never sure which way that goes. worse anyway) all the time aides are probably a bit of a fantasy at this point, and even if they all do have aides, again you run into the problem of space, when an entire school has to eat at some point near midday.

The best solution Matt and I could think of was to have a bank of sinks at the back of the classroom. That way students can line up while the teacher supervises, and hopefully the mess and excitement that would otherwise occur could be avoided. Even this is not perfect however, since at a guess twenty minutes would need to be set aside just for hand washing, and unless classrooms are already equipped with a convenient bank of sinks, the likelihood of getting the funding for it is far-fetched at best. It's an interesting problem, and unfortunately I doubt the schools will come up with a practical solution. I don't say this because I think a practical solution doesn't exist, I say it because I don't trust any large institution (public schools) to both see and choose a practical solution.

*Photos from flickr and UK's Daily Mail.


Blackswamp_Girl said...

I heard that same story! I like your idea, but wouldn't it be better to have the kids wash their hands as they are waiting in line at the cafeteria? That way you just have one washing station, and all the kids have to file through and do it (supervised) before they can eat. I'm thinking two of your banks of sinks set back-to-back...

Meagan said...

That is a good idea, but again, requires schools to recognize it as such, and be willing to implement it...