Today, Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein announced that the Orleans Parish School District is one of five school districts that have earned the asthma-friendly designation from LDH's Asthma Management and Prevention Program for the 2011-2012 academic year.

"I applaud the Orleans Parish schools that have worked diligently to create a healthier environment for their students with asthma," LDH Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein said. "Asthma symptoms often hinder a child's ability to succeed in academic settings. By implementing these best practices, the schools in Orleans Parish are giving students with asthma the chance to focus on what really matters - achieving their academic goals."

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways, causing wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound), chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. Asthma reduces the amount of air that can pass, making it hard to breathe. In severe instances, asthma can be fatal. Although asthma cannot be cured, it can be controlled, and there are plenty of ways schools can play a part in keeping students' asthma under control.  

"We are excited about the opportunity to play a major role in increasing awareness about asthma in our schools and Orleans Parish", said Darryl Kilbert, the now-retired Superintendent of Orleans Parish Schools, who was integral in achieving this status. "We are honored that the Department of Health has designated nine of our schools as Asthma Friendly Schools. This designation proves that we are moving in the right direction to improve the health and learning outcomes of our students who have asthma; while providing our parents with peace of mind regarding how we manage their child's asthma."

According to 2009 Louisiana Hospital Inpatient Discharge Data, asthma is the third-leading cause of hospitalization for children under age 15. Young children aren't the only ones affected. The 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System found that more than 22 percent of Louisiana high school students reported having missed at least one day of school due to asthma.

To combat these astounding statistics, LDH's Asthma Management and Prevention Program implemented the Asthma Friendly Schools Initiative in the four Louisiana regions that have the highest asthma prevalence and hospitalization rates - New Orleans area, Capital area, and the Northwest and Northeast. LDH seeks to educate school personnel on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of asthma, which will improve school attendance and keep students in classrooms, where they can learn.

Orleans Parish is joined by West Baton Rouge, Claiborne, Red River and West Carroll parishes. In accordance with grant funding, LDH will extend an offer of participation to one school district per region per year for the next three years.    

All public schools in Orleans Parish collaborated with the state's asthma program, Greater New Orleans Asthma Regional Coalition and Open World Family Services. Orleans Parish schools are helping by being supportive of students and staff with asthma; adopting asthma-friendly policies and procedures; coordinating services with physicians to increase asthma action plans for all students with asthma; and providing continued asthma education for students and staff in collaboration with the Asthma Management and Prevention Program.

To learn more about the Louisiana Asthma Management and Prevention Program, visit www.asthma.dhh.louisiana.gov.