Parents of children at the Canadian International School have complained that they missed an important alert about a potential flu outbreak because of the school’s insufficient communication system.
The parents, who
did not want to be named to protect their children, said the school in Wong Chuk Hang sent out the alert on Monday to parents’ school email addresses and to a password-protected parent portal, neither of which they checked often, so they did not know about the alert until Thursday, when the school sent text messages reminding parents to check the alert.
The Centre for Health Protection confirmed on Friday that it had been investigating outbreaks of influenza-like illness at the school’s kindergarten and primary sections, with 13 children aged four to seven affected. Officers from the centre have visited the school and put it under medical surveillance.
The centre announced similar outbreaks in three primary schools in Causeway Bay, Kwai Chung and Ho Man Tin, with 72 pupils affected.
“I am pleased to inform you that a visit from representatives of the [centre] this morning affirmed the steps ... we are taking to manage the recent rash of flu and sickness among our students,” said Canadian’s primary section principal Wil Chan in another email sent to the same system yesterday followed by a text message to parents informing them to check the email.
Chan added that the pupil absentee rate had been “quite high” and the centre had been contacting related families to find out why.
In the Monday email, a school nurse notified parents about “a spike in student illness” with fever being the main symptom. The nurse also reminded parents to take precautions and listed a series of safety measures.
But some parents said they did not know about the Monday email until yesterday when the school sent a text message to parents’ mobile phone reminding them to check their school email accounts or parent portal.
One parent said she did not have a school email address because she believed parents should have the right to choose their own emergency contacts. She said she would not have checked the account often even if she had one. She added that she did not check the parent portal often either.
“[The school] needs to put students first when it comes to health-related documents,” she said.
Several other parents expressed the same concerns.
But another parents said it should be parents’ responsibility to check school messages frequently, although she said she did not remember whether she saw the email on Monday or not.
Dr Leung Chi-chiu, a specialist in respiratory medicine, said schools needed to discuss with parents beforehand what kind of communication systems they would apply when it comes to emergencies.
School spokeswoman Melanie Hnetka said the school had provided technical support for parents to enable their school accounts to forward emails to their frequently used accounts. She said the school had been providing parents updates via other channels such as a school mobile app, phone calls, and a health and safety blog.
At least 10 children have been admitted to intensive care with flu this year, including a six-year-old boy who died on Tuesday.
Additional report by Elizabeth Cheung