Commentary: One principal stays calm in face of flu fear

How does one little Catholic school in Fair Oaks become the front line of swine flu fear in the Sacramento region?

Janet Nagel, principal at St. Mel School, laughed at the question. Nagel starts each day by going to Mass – even this week, as hordes of media camped out in her school parking lot.

Faith and prayer haven't provided her all the answers in a crisis, but they have strengthened her resolve.

"In my job, people expect you to be level-headed, to be pretty balanced," Nagel said Tuesday. "I have to be very vigilant."

She was. The story of how a swine flu from Mexico infected Sacramento is the story of a school community doing the right thing when danger threatened.

On Saturday evening, a St. Mel's teacher started to put the pieces together. The teacher was aware that one of her kids had the flu and also had seen news coverage of a flu panic breaking out in Mexico. That teacher sent Nagel an e-mail, and by Sunday, the school discovered its student had been to Cancun over Easter break. Having read that parochial schoolkids from New York had contracted the swine flu while visiting Cancun, Nagel felt a cold suspicion set in.

"At that point, we thought, 'Oh, my gosh,' " Nagel said. "Then it was a matter of making phone calls."

To read the complete column, visit