Christine Doss and Caitlin Pendley (l to r), wish you and yours a healthy, happy holiday.

MUSD Health Department Advice For Healthy Holidays During the COVID-19 Pandemic


By Frédéric Martin, Editor-in-Chief

Caitlin Pendley is the coordinator of health services; she has worked for the school district since 2006 where she now oversees the health services department staff of about 40 credentialed school nurses, licensed practical nurses, and health assistants. Caitlin has a bachelor’s degree in science and nursing, is a credentialled school nurse, and has a Public Health Services Certificate. Caitlin spent most of her career in the school district, started as a school site nurse, and eventually came to work in management for the health department.

Christine Doss, MUSD health department director, started working for the school district on June 1, 2020. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Christine worked in behavioral health for five years, spent another five years in child welfare, and, for the last ten years, worked for the County of Mariposa as division director over public health and behavioral health. Christine has extensive experience working in disaster situations — floods and large fires — and is certified as an Essential Services Function in the ESF8 (health services) and ESF6 (mass care facility) within the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) framework, a structure designed to be leveraged in catastrophic public health situations, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic national health emergency.

For a long time, Christine wanted to work in the school environment, with her ample experience in child welfare and behavioral health, she wanted to work in a manner that would allow her to bridge the many gaps of services her experience has revealed to her, and to unify the multiple aspects of community health, a natural continuation in her career path. 

Beside the health department staff of nurses and health assistants, trained to attend to typical medical issues of students and school staff, the MUSD health department also has substance use recovery services staff of two Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor (CADC) staff, and two behavioral analysts, typically working with K through third grade with high need children who cannot control behaviors. They work with teachers and parents to teach them behavioral techniques to manage their specific situations. The department also has two mental health clinicians who work with the youth from 4th through 12th grade in behavioral therapy. The department actively works with the Madera County Behavioral Health, the Camarena Health Center, and Kings View behavioral services system in Madera, for children in need of mild to more extensive mental health services, through a referral system to better assess and serve the requirements of children in need of such more comprehensive mental health services.

As stated in its vision statement, the Madera Unified School District Health & Wellness Department is a multidisciplinary team that strives to meet the needs of the whole person’s health and well-being through prevention, education, and intervention through an integrative system of care. The district teams with many partners to “wrap” the child, as there are many gaps between agencies and service organizations, so mitigating gaps is a critical function of the department and has become Christine’s personal and professional mission.

Christine is not just concerned with the children; this year, the department is also sharply focused on employee wellness, helping staff through the challenges of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which means being particularly supportive to the teaching and overall school staff, addressing both areas of care, mental and physical. This means making sure that all Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) are both readily available but also properly and adequately distributed and well stocked, as well as being sensitive to the individual needs of the staff. The department has created community circles, for staff to be debriefed through these hard times, create and nurture connections while championing self-care, with a particular attention to mental and emotional wellness.

The department is both attentive to requests that come in from employees and students, and regularly pushes messaging out through Parent Square and other avenues, to satisfy external and internal communications requirements and to rectify potential misinformation. Christine also works with messaging created with NAMI, with National Association of Mental Institute, with their offering of training for staff, students, and parents. All the flu clinics are also set up in the school district, triple what is usually done in a typical year… which this is not.

Misinformation is also an important concern that requires the department staff to keep tuned into CDC and other respected medical organizations’ recommendations and scientifically vetted information related to COVID-19, as well as making sure to professionally debunk misinformation or unfounded fears that may surprise staff, for example, baseless fears that digital infrared forehead thermometers can trigger brain cancer (they do not), of other healthcare myths that go counter to both medical knowledge and/or common sense. The department also regularly communicates and works with other school districts from the surrounding counties to exchange vetted information and address ongoing and new challenges.

The department’s goal this year is to safely reopen the school so our kids can come back to in-person learning in a safe and controlled environment. Other aspects of the job also involve making sure that ongoing health concerns, beyond COVID-19, are addressed; for example, children are still required to be fully immunized with their compulsory Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (TDAP) booster as children enter the seventh grade.

COVID-19, in a way, had simplified our priorities: safety is the top concern for staff and students, so we make sure we have enough PPE in place, including plexiglass partitions installed, working to retrofit our ventilation systems, etc. Currently there is no in-person schooling, but we are actively working towards getting the school ready for in-person teaching when our local viral spread is lowered to levels that will allow schools to safely reopen.

There are guidelines already in place that will be observed once the schools reopen, with strict health checks, behavior enforcement, and responsive rules, for example: if a student or staff is infected with the virus, upon discovery, the cohort gets sidelined into quarantine and the environment sanitized per CDC instructions.

MUSD also communicates critical health information to its community of students, parents, and staff via Parent Square. Anxiety is a big concern for MUSD because we see new cases of high anxiety for students and adults who have never experienced such stress before the pandemic. We also monitor known cases of people who are susceptible to depression, as the pandemic and the associated isolation is making it worse for fragile individuals.

All the MUSD teachers make up the proverbial front line for the health department, who are asked to pay particular attention to student behavior patterns that may suggest mental health concerns.

The Holidays are a traditional concern for the MUSD health department, because of the extended break from teacher supervision, the family tensions that can be magnified during the holiday season, and for which the CDC has produced a guideline that will be used by the health department as a blueprint for the coming season.

Have a safe holiday season and take care of yourself and those around you!

The MUSD health department came up with a list of ideas for celebrating & surviving the Holidays with social distancing while supporting your mental health:

  • Drive around and look at Holiday Decorations and lights
  • Watch your favorite Holiday movie with your family
  • Bake favorite item and gift it to someone
  • Connect with spiritual community
  • Develop a plan early for the Holidays
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Understand feelings of anxiety and depression are normal during the Holidays and maybe even heightened due to the Pandemic
  • Set aside time to grieve those who are no longer with you
  • Seek help from Mental Health professional if symptoms worsen
  • We also suggest viewing the videos, featured in the RISE UP video series, as they can be useful during the holidays.


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