Assistant principal Patrick McLaughlin pauses in a classroom while giving a tour at St. Francis Prep high school in Queens

Assistant principal Patrick McLaughlin pauses in a classroom while giving a tour at St. Francis Prep high school in Queens

The swine flu is expected to return to New York City, just in time for students heading back to school. New York City's Health Department and its schools are now preparing for the flu's arrival.

This past spring, the outbreak sickened 1 million people and killed 47, causing the closings of dozens of public and private schools.

The fall season is expected to be worse than the outbreak during the spring. While the details of the city's swine flu plan are still being finalized by a Health Department panel, educators and health officials are deciding how to best ward off the stronger strain of the virus.

Schools all over the city are preparing their facilities for the possible onslaught of sick students.

At Queens' St. Francis Preparatory School this fall, for instance, the auditorium will double as a sick room. New York City might make students wash their hands several times a day. There will be unit on swine flu in health class.

It was at this parochial school that the swine flu outbreak was first unleashed and caused a nationwide panic. St. Francis Assistant Principal Patrick McLaughlin said his students may have already learned from experience to be vigilant. He has observed that his students had become increasingly unnerved about communicable diseases, and sharing water bottles have become a thing of the past.

"I don't want them to come to school being afraid," McLaughlin said. "But I do want that awareness ... that knowledge, that it's out there. It could come back. Be ready for it."

Former St. Francis student Abby Opam is preparing for her first year of college at New York University, and she is warier than ever. "I'm being more careful to not, like, share drinks or, you know, get too touchy with people -- especially with so many new people from different parts of the country," she stated.

According to Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's public schools are largely waiting to follow the lead of the agency, which hopes to have its recommendations by the first day of school.

While he allotted that the possible fall outbreak will likely be worse than last spring's he assured us that those who get sick won't be any sicker--it is merely the number of ill people that will increase. "Most people can recover on their own, alone at home," Farley said. "And then they should stay home so they don't spread the infection to others."

St. Francis Prep is planning a health assembly for its 2,700 students at the start of the year to impart the basics of steering clear of the virus. McLaughlin planning an entire unit in health class based around swine flu. City schools might also institute routine checks on their students by asking them whether they are experiencing fever or respiratory symptoms, then putting them in a designated room until they can be picked up by their parents.

While the city waits for the Health Department's swine flu plan to be finalized, some are getting fidgety. Cathy Cahn, Parent-Teacher Association president at P.S. 205, was a friend of the school's assistant principal Mitchell Weiner, who became the city's first swine flu fatality.

She thinks the wait is taking too long. "How easily that could happen in any building," she said. "I would like to know: How are we going to keep our kids healthy?"