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COVID-19 surfaces at Clarksville Elementary

SoVaNow.com / September 02, 2020
The first day of school can be an anxious time for parents as well as students. Now, on top of the usual worries about youths adjusting to new teachers and classmates, there’s COVID-19.

On Monday, Mecklenburg County Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols shared news with teachers and staff at Clarksville Elementary School that a school employee has tested positive for the virus. He said as far as the division knows, this is the only MCPS employee infected with COVID-19.

The uptick in COVID-19 cases in the county — there are currently 151 active cases of the virus — combined with news of the infection at Clarksville Elementary School has some school board members questioning the wisdom of resuming in-person classroom learning.

In August, the school board narrowly voted to keep students in grades 6-12 at home for distance learning for the first nine weeks. However, students in grades K-5, including those at Clarksville Elementary, are set to return to school for four-day classroom instruction with the start of the school year on Sept. 8.

Nichols said trustees Lindell Palmer and Gloria Smith have expressed concerns to him about a return to in-person classroom learning. Board Chair Gavin Honeycutt, during the last school board meeting, shared the same concerns, although Honeycutt voted in August to stick to the division’s previously-announced plans for a four-day, in-person school week.

Trustees Ricky Allgood and Glenn Edwards said they did not favor in-person learning because of the coronavirus, but said they would support the recommendation of the superintendent.

Parents debating whether to send their children back to classrooms or keep them at home weighed the benefits of socialization and face-to-face instruction against the potential health risks. Now, some Clarksville Elementary parents are wondering if they made the right decision after word leaked out about the infected member of the school staff — and that both the principal, Ann Dalton, and assistant principal Devon Alder were exposed.

One parent, who asked not to be named, said, “It scares me to send him [her son] back to school not knowing if other people are taking precautions. We have kept him protected, not going to restaurants, or taking him with us to the grocery store. Now he’s going to be in the classroom with however many kids for an entire day with a teacher. You’re not going to be able to keep children from interacting with their friends.”

The person with the positive test is believed to have contracted the virus from their spouse. None of the three individuals involved are showing any symptoms, Nichols said, adding that all three are in quarantine for at least the next 14 days.

Nichols said the school would not be rudderless at the start of the year. Two members of the Central Office staff who hold administrative certifications, executive director of curriculum and instruction Joan Hite, and curriculum specialist Amy Hite, will be overseeing the school’s administrative duties for the first days of school. Working with them will be school nurse Angela Hite.

Additionally, Nichols said all three Clarksville Elementary school employees are continuing to work from home virtually.

Nichols said even though only one school division employee has tested positive for the virus, MCPS will continue to require health screenings for all staff and the students, once school begins on Tuesday, September 8. Anyone showing signs of any illness, covid-related or otherwise, is encouraged to stay home until their symptoms are gone.

As COVID-19 spread across the country and into Mecklenburg County, the school division scrambled to not only develop online learning platforms for the students but also a series of health and safety protocols to guard against, as much as possible, the spread of the virus once students returned to the classroom.

Nichols said the protocols worked. The infected individual notified appropriate personnel at the school as soon as their positive test was confirmed. Once the administration received notice, school nurse Angela Hite began contact tracing. She and every nurse in the school division has been trained and certified in contact tracing protocols. Hite determined that only two people in the school were exposed to the virus and they were advised to immediately leave campus and self-quarantine.

He stressed that the quarantine request was made to those exposed to the virus not because they were showing symptoms, but for safety reasons and to comply with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines. Nichols also said he was aware that at least one of the asymptomatic individuals had decided to get the COVID-19 test. He did not say if the second person exposed was also being tested.

HIPAA (Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) privacy rules make contact tracing difficult, according to Nichols. He said he cannot tell anyone the identity of the infected individuals, only the timeframe during which it may have occurred.

For someone to have been “exposed” under CDC guidelines, they must have been together in a confined space without a mask, with less than six feet of distance between individuals and for 15 minutes or more.

Nichols said Tuesday he was working out the best way to inform the parents of Clarksville Elementary School students about the confirmed case. At the same time, he said did not want to alarm parents since enhanced cleaning protocols are ongoing at every school ahead of the first day of classes, and the procedures developed by the school division for handling possible infections are being adhered to strictly.

Nichols said the way the school division handled this case is evidence of how the school will address future occurrences. “This is why our health screening is critical,” Nichols said. “We will continue to follow our guidelines and those from the CDC and work with the local health department” when it comes to decisions related to the virus and whether to shut down a class or the whole school.

He also warned parents who repeatedly fail to follow the guidelines that their child will be relegated to virtual learning, with the expectation that these children actively participate in the online lessons since attendance monitoring is built into the virtual learning platform.

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Comments

I am confused! If a school board member doesn't agree with something or a recommendation, why does that school board member vote in favor of the recommendation?

Comments

Mr. Whitten, I was just thinking the exact same thing!

Comments

For someone to have been “exposed” under CDC guidelines, they must have been together in a confined space without a mask, with less than six feet of distance between individuals and for 15 minutes or more. Why were they not wearing masks if they were closer than 6’ in a confined space?

Comments

whats the plan if school becomes to infected that class must be remote? How will you address the lack of broadband access throughout the area? Viasat is ehh at best, verizon has limited coverage and data caps. Only hope for us is the roll out of Starlink. I digress - whats the plan to give all students equal footing to learn?


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