When Karen Shein sends her two children off to elementary school in a few weeks, they will be packing more than just the usual back-to-class gear.

Tucked into their school bags will be alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

And this fall, with a surge of swine flu cases possibly in the offing, keeping hands clean could be more critical than ever to prevent children getting sick or spreading the virus.

“With the pandemic,” says Dr. Bonnie Henry of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, “we've been saying it's really important this year more than others, even, for you to have the ability for children to wash their hands, because we know that influenza is what we call 'amplified' in schools.”

But not all schools are equipped to provide the basics needed to accomplish that goal.

Washrooms in their Toronto school are equipped with soap dispensers, there are no paper towels, Shein says.

Chris Broadbent, manager of health and safety for the Toronto District School Board, says cost and vandalism are concerns when it comes to stocking washrooms in its 560 elementary and secondary schools.

Over the years, expensive and environmentally wasteful paper towels have given way in many schools to hand dryers, he says.

“But all of our washrooms are equipped with liquid soap and hand dryers of one description, whether it's paper towels or an electric hand blower.”

While students aren't encouraged to bring their own hand sanitizer, schools can order it from the board's distribution warehouse, Broadbent says.

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