Health experts say damaged Japanese nuclear plant poses no risk to California

As Japan scrambles to secure a nuclear power plant damaged in last week’s earthquake, public health agencies in the U.S. are emphasizing that there is “no risk expected to California or its residents.”

Worldwide relief efforts are underway following the massive temblor and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan on March 11. (For information on how you can help, click here.) At the same time, officials with the California Department of Public Health and the California Emergency Management Agency have issued the following statement confirming Californians’ safety from radiation exposure, as well as the risks associated with taking potassium iodide as a precautionary measure:

The safety of all Californians is our highest priority, and we are in constant contact with the federal agencies responsible for monitoring radiation levels across the West Coast. 

We want to emphasize that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have all stated that there is no risk expected to California or its residents as a result of the situation in Japan.

We are actively monitoring the situation in Japan and are ready to take all steps necessary to protect Californians should risks develop.

We urge Californians to not take potassium iodide as a precautionary measure. It is not necessary given the current circumstances in Japan, it can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine, shellfish or who have thyroid problems, and taken inappropriately it can have serious side effects including abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, vomiting, electrolyte abnormalities and bleeding.

Our thoughts are with the people of Japan at this tragic time.

Again, this statement comes from Dr. Howard Backer, who serves as interim director of the California Department of Public Health, and Mike Dayton, who is acting secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Department of Education is continuing to post updates on its webpage, as is the county’s Health Care Agency. For a list of Frequently Asked Questions about radiation on the California Department of Public Health’s website, click here.

State says students entering grades 7 through 12 must get a pertussis booster shot

In response to the national epidemic of pertussis, commonly known as “whooping cough,” the state of California has imposed a new requirement for students who will start grades 7 through 12 on or after July 1, 2011.

Assembly Bill 354 now mandates that children entering these grade levels show proof that they’ve recently received a pertussis booster shot called “Tdap.” In fact, the shot is a condition of enrollment.

Pertussis is a contagious disease that brings about a persistent cough, which may be followed by a distinct crowing – or whooping – sound when inhaling, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.  The deep cough can also be accompanied by vomiting, gagging, choking or turning blue. Agency officials note that it poses a great risk to newborns and other vulnerable populations.

Early booster shots are effective but can weaken over time, which is why health officials are now requiring children 10 years and older to get the Tdap vaccination. (It includes boosters for tetanus and diphtheria.) Adults are also advised to get the shot if they haven’t already, and this is said to be critically important for those who may be in close contact with infants.

For more information, please visit IUSD’s Health Services website by clicking here, or contact the department by phone at 949-936-7520. (Additionally, Health Services has a list of frequently asked questions and answers here.)

Parents can also get more information about pertussis from their family doctors or by visiting the county Health Care Agency’s website at

Thousands of Irvine students take important steps for health and the environment

More than 11,000 students in the Irvine Unified School District walked or pedaled to school on Thursday, Oct. 28, in support of the fourth annual Walk to School Day, according to estimates from the Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

In all, 26 IUSD schools formally participated in this year’s event. Sponsored locally by the Irvine Unified PTA Council, the City of Irvine and IPSF, Walk to School Day annual promotes walking and biking to school as a way to improve health, reduce traffic and highlight safe routes to school.

While a districtwide kickoff ceremony at Northwood Community Park was attended by school board President Sharon Wallin and Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang, many schools staged their own activities to inspire students. (Pictured above is Bonita Canyon Elementary and its principal, Bob Curley.)

Meadow Park Elementary, for example, held a contest that encouraged students to walk every day for the entire week.

Meanwhile, at Turtle Rock Elementary, more than 750 students – or about 90 percent of the student population – participated in this year’s Walk To School Day. Mr. Hofseth, a sixth-grade teacher, reportedly said he’d never seen the parking lot so free of traffic. 

“The air was so amazingly clear and fresh in front of the school,” he said.

The participation rate was close to 88 percent over at South Lake Middle School, and once again Assistant Principal Rick Blazer led by example. In fact, the Blazer family – including his wife, Jean Blazer, who is a sixth-grade teacher at Greentree Elementary, and their son, Myles, a Greentree student – traveled by train from their San Clemente home to Tustin and bicycled the rest of the way.

The City of Irvine is once again supporting the health and guidance needs of IUSD students

In May, the City of Irvine generated headlines when it offered to kick in more than $875,000 through a challenge grant to help ease the impacts of larger class sizes in IUSD – the latter coming as fallout from the state budget crisis.

But that’s certainly not the only way the City is supporting our schools.

In fact, our municipal partner provides more than $4.5 million a year to pay for things like school resource officers, crossing guards, special events and the D.A.R.E. program. And, for the fifth consecutive year, the City of Irvine will support the health and guidance needs of IUSD students through the Educational Partnership Fund, allocating more than $440,000 to fund a number of successful district initiatives in 2010-11.

A portion of that money was secured by the nonprofit Irvine Public Schools Foundation to help pay for school nurses and health clerks. The balance will be used by the district to fund strategies designed to reinforce positive school behavior at the middle and high school levels, as well as targeted intervention services for students in kindergarten through the sixth grade.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • School Nurses (Funded through IPSF)  $83,430 
  • Health Clerks (Funded through IPSF)  $63,322
  • High School Project Success  $76,367
  • Middle School Project Success  $73,895
  • Elementary Counseling Assistants for Grades K-3  $67,122
  • Elementary Counseling Assistants for Grades K-3  $76,826

Superintendent Gwen Gross says the Educational Partnership Fund “represents an incredibly generous and valuable contribution, particularly as we work our way through the state’s budget crisis.”

Added Dr. Gross, “This is a powerful testament to the remarkable collaboration between our district, the City of Irvine and the Irvine Public Schools Foundation, which has made an ongoing commitment to help fund nurses, health clerks and health curriculum.”

Stonegate students and staff work together to support a classmate with severe allergies

Omar Mughal’s mom and dad had scoured the country, searching for a campus where their child could thrive both socially and academically. Above all, they needed to find a place where Omar would be safe.

Homeschooled his entire academic life, the fourth-grader grappled with severe food allergies that made it impossible to be around wheat, gluten, rye or barley. Ingesting, inhaling or touching certain foods was out of the question. Even being touched by someone who came in contact with these seemingly innocuous ingredients was downright dangerous for Omar, who was also moderately allergic to peanuts and eggs.

Anas and Iffet Mughal, who had lived in New Jersey, finally moved to Irvine and enrolled their son at Stonegate Elementary School in January. Based on their research, they were confident that the Irvine Unified School District could accommodate Omar’s needs.

A suprise party was held at Stonegate Elementary on June 3 to celebrate the selfless efforts of Mrs. Hawker’s class.

Still, they could not have envisioned just how far the students and staff at Stonegate would go to make him feel welcome.

“It’s beyond belief,” Anas Mughal said.

Prior to Omar’s arrival, a team comprised of his parents, the principal, teacher Patrice Hawker and school nurse Vicki McRobbieralls gathered to talk about allergens and to brainstorm strategies. Nurse McRobbieralls took the lead in developing a course of action, which was relayed – along with the severity of Omar’s allergies – to the entire fourth-grade class.

Among the strategies to reduce the risk of a reaction, it was decided that all students would use hand-sanitizing wipes before entering Omar’s classroom. Gloves would be used for hands-on science and computer lessons. A designated allergen-free table would be set up for lunch.

And it didn’t end there.

Mrs. Hawker tailored individual lesson plans to make sure Omar could safely participate. When a P.E. activity called for the use of scarves, Hawker made sure that one was left untouched by the other children. For Valentine’s Day, a “Red Fruit” party was planned in lieu of traditional sweets.  A parent even established a schedule for children to eat allergen-free lunches with Omar.

Students, including 10-year-old Jonathan Phelps, embraced the accommodations. More to the point, they embraced Omar.

“We wanted him to feel welcome and fit in,” Phelps said.

They also wanted to ensure their new friend and classmate remained healthy. After Omar was cast in a play about California’s gold-mining history, some of the other children noticed that his character, as scripted, was supposed to remove his shoes and socks.

“They asked, ‘What if there’s food on the carpet?’ Mrs. Hawker said. “They just thought a little deeper to ask the question, ‘Can Omar do that?’”

The socks stayed on, and not only has Omar managed to avoid contact with foods that could compromise his health, he also recently received some good news from his doctor: The list of ingredients that could hurt him appears to be shrinking.

To mark Omar’s progress, and to celebrate the selfless efforts of his classmates, a surprise party was held in Mrs. Hawker’s room on Thursday, June 3. Principal Bruce Terry was there, as was Mrs. McRobbieralls and Omar’s proud parents, Anas and Iffet.

Quietly, humbly, Omar told a visitor that he appreciated all that his fellow students have done on his behalf.

“I think it’s cool,” he said. “I feel pretty good about it.”

Meanwhile, Principal Terry was also praising Mrs. Hawker’s class for working together to support one of their own. Alluding to their reward, he gestured to the mysterious brown paper bag he brought with him.

“This is our gift to you,” Mr. Terry said, “for being the consummate – that’s a big word – team.”

A few minutes later, Omar and his classmates were off to recess, but not before munching on their special treats – allergen-free chocolate bars.

(Update: Orange County Register reporter Ellyn Pak wrote a nice story on Omar and his friends at Stonegate. You can find it here.)

May 12 marks the birthday of Florence Nightingale – and National School Nurse Day

It’s Wednesday, May 12, and we think it’s an especially good day to thank our local school nurses. After all, today has been designated as National School Nurse Day.

Established in 1972, National School Nurse Day was created to foster a better understanding of the role of school nurses in the educational setting. These days, the profession is recognized as a specialized practice that advances the well-being, academic success and life-long achievement of students.

To that end, more than 66,000 school nurses across the country “promote health and safety; intervene with actual and potential health problems; provide case management services; and actively collaborate with others to build student/family capacity for adaptation, self management, self advocacy, and learning,” according to the National Association of School Nurses.

Of course, National School Nurse Day is part of National Nurses Week, recognized May 6 through May 12. The latter date, not coincidentally, is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, considered a pioneer of modern nursing.

Today, we’d like to express our gratitude to some other pretty important nurses – particularly IUSD school nurses Azita Ghaderifard, Kathy Hartman, Regina Keenan, Dee Knapper, Sheri Kulungian, Samantha Lutz, Vicki McRobbieralls, Linda Mirshafiee, Sally Valentine, Norma Yockel, Michael DuBois, Linda Scott-Katz and Marcia Noonan.

So thank you, school nurses, for keeping our students safe, healthy and ready to learn. And for more information about the IUSD’s Health Services department, click here, or visit