Administration addresses pandemic concerns

Last Friday Principal Antonio Derricotte, Associate Principal for Operations Cindi Lowe and Associate Principal Fabian Jones met with the BluePrints Magazine staff to answer questions about the new school year and COVID-19 mitigation. Students across Clarke County School District are required to wear masks at school and school nurses conduct contact tracing to manage spread. This year there are about 1,591 students in the Cedar Shoals High School building and as of Friday, over the last 30 days there were 32 positive COVID-19 cases at Cedar Shoals and 358 cases across CCSD.

Web Editor Melanie Frick: Tell us about the process of contact tracing.

Dr. Cindi Lowe: The person in charge of contact tracing for our school is Eve Bisard, our nurse, and she is our contact with the district and the Department of Public Health. The way we handle contact tracing is when we receive a report of a positive COVID test, she will then identify through the schedule who the student’s teachers are, which classes they’re in. We have seating charts in each of our classes that give us a starting point for which students should be around that distance. We make contact with the teachers to ask if there might be others. Even though it may look like they were a (close) contact they may not have actually been within three feet for 15 minutes or more, so that’s where we start. 

We find out their transportation. Then we communicate with the bus driver, because our buses are also supposed to have seating charts as well so that we can tell who was in three feet for 15 minutes more on a bus.

There is a database called GRITS (Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services) that she (Bisard) can look at and see who has been vaccinated, who has not been vaccinated, and how that impacts contact tracing. Of course the families are notified of any person that is deemed a close contact, and they will, depending on the circumstances, go to quarantine. And then we as a school — Mr. Derricotte sends it out — alert our teachers and community to the number of cases we have. How often do you send that out?

Principal Antonio Derricotte: It’s supposed to be each day, based on if we have the information that’s finalized for that day. Sometimes there may be a two or three day lag. The biggest thing is we want to make sure it’s factual. So if we don’t have it confirmed, you might have a lag.

Dr. Lowe: And then we also communicate with activities, so if they’re on a football team or in a club, we then contact those sponsors, and we may ask students who might be considered a close contact. One of the things that is the most difficult about contract tracing right now is there’s a lot of movement in high school. That is difficult to manage on a daily basis. It’s a little bit different than lower grades. That’s a difficulty that we have, but we work through that by communicating with individual people. 

CLOSE CONTACTS AND QUARANTINE: Assistant Principal Fabian Jones speaks about the measures taken for students in quarantine due to close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Close contacts are told to remain home for at least 10 days, regardless of test results. “We have to depend upon our staff to identify those individuals who come back sooner than they’re supposed to,” Jones said. Photo by Isabella Morgan.

Web Editor Tory Ratajczak: How are students learning content while sick with COVID, or quarantining, and how are teachers teaching them at home simultaneously?

Mr. Derricotte: What we’ve asked the teachers to do is just to make sure that all the work is done through Google Classroom and to make sure their administrators are looped in. Since we have returned to face to face, and COVID-19 has not gone away, we realize there will be some issues through that. Another issue you have to look at (is) if they’re sick in quarantine. We still pay that consideration as well. If you’re too sick to do the work, that’s not your fault. So not only does this take patience, but common sense as well. By having that avenue of using the Google Classroom to be able to see the items, students don’t have to just try to wait for a work packet to show up. 

I think one of the big things that we’ve seen is sometimes students may have been in the building. They’ve been quarantined and the technology may still be here (at the school). So they don’t have another way. But we address those issues as well and ask the families to loop us in so that we can try to provide the technology they may need to support them at home.

Tory Ratajczak: Should we expect Zoom to re-enter the picture (for quarantined students)?

Mr. Derricote: We’ve already tentatively started asking teachers — without trying to freak people out — since we do have new teachers in the building that may not have gone through the process before. We have let them know that this is part of what we do or have done. We have approved Zoom links to the school district for Cedar Shoals, and so we have already started telling people how to actually make those, so that we’re still working proactively rather than reactively.

Co-Editor-in-Chief Jackie Wright: How many positive cases or number of quarantines do you think it would take before we went back to virtual learning as a whole school?

Mr. Derricotte: We had what’s called professional learning communities where the principals went Wednesday, assistant principals went yesterday, and instructional coaches are going today (Aug. 20). They talked about it a little bit, but they did not give us a sound, concrete number. There are some analytics that have been prepared by the district, looking at each school in totality as far as what’s going on for each week. Although discussions have started, they have not given us any concrete numbers as of yet. More or less what they said is that we know this is a conversation that needs to be had and we’re not trying to act like it’s not going on. But right now, they don’t have anything concrete as far as what numbers that they need to share, but we don’t want you to think that anyone’s not talking about it already.

VIRTUAL LEARNING: Antonio Derricotte reflects on leading the school while students learned online. Derricotte, whose first year as principal was far from normal, is taking away some positives from the experience. “I’m glad to have that over, but at the same time we got a chance to see — in case we have to do it again — that we at least know that it can work.” Photo by Isabella Morgan.

Brendon Milsap, staff writer: There are multiple rooms on campus that are experiencing poor ventilation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, proper ventilation is considered one of the most important ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus. How would you reassure individuals who worry over their safety due to airflow while inside school facilities?

Mr. Derricotte: The building is safe, the functioning of the system does work, but it does not always work the way that we feel like it should in terms of when you add more people to certain rooms. And we constantly are having plant services come out to let us know how things are going. They can see on a computer grid when it looks like an area is struggling or it doesn’t look like it’s working at full capacity. But as long as we know that rooms are being monitored, they’re being checked and we’re able to still have school and be able to meet the check-offs that we need to.

News Editor Anna Schmidt: Are there any plans to fix the building essentials such as locks, soap and bathrooms?

Dr. Lowe: Yes there is and how it works is that students can actually participate in this as well. When you submit a form saying ‘It’s not working or it’s broken,’ we submit a work order to Physical Plant who then goes out and fixes it. I think last month, they’ve had 700 and something requests in the district, and 600 have already been completed and corrected. So what we would do with bathrooms having issues, or if the water’s not working or similar things like that, we submit that and then they come and they repair that in a timely fashion.

Mr. Derricotte: But here lies the issue: we’re still in a pandemic. A lot of the items they (plant services) need to repair, they’re not able to repair. So while they may be aware, and they’ve checked off as far as what needs to be fixed, some of the items they still have not been able to receive. One of the things that had to be fixed, it took almost eight months to get the part. The part had to come out of Europe.

Gabriel Holcomb, staff writer: How often does the school get deep cleaned? What is a “deep clean,” and what does it consist of? How are rooms cleaned after a positive case is identified, if at all?

Dr. Lowe: The rooms get disinfected and sanitized in the evenings. The main thing we use is a fogger, that sprays a fine mist in the rooms that gets down into cracks, crevices and corners. That serves to just kill germs. We also clean window sills and highly touched areas. This all happens in the evening when students and adults are not in the building and on a daily basis. This doesn’t change when there’s a positive COVID case because the protocols we use are the same ones we would use anyways. Also, teachers and sometimes students clean desks, and we’re asking students to follow hygiene protocols.

REPAIRING THE RESTROOMS: Cindi Lowe describes the process of fixing building essentials. When something is not working properly, Cedar Shoals administration submits a work order to the physical plant. “What we need help with is someone coming to us and saying ‘This is not working,’ to a teacher who then knows the process of submitting a work order,” Lowe said. Photo by Megan Wise.

Marcus Welch, staff writer: Are you aware of the issues surrounding food scarcity for later lunches, leaving some students with very little to eat? For example, sides run out and in some cases students have been given only the actual chicken patty, and nothing else. What are the plans to resolve these issues?

Mr. Derricotte: I talked with a parent and our lunch manager about this earlier this week. Our lunch manager said that she did not know that anything ran out. When I brought it to her attention, she said, “Feel free to come back, I can show you what we have left over.” I actually took pictures and shared them with the family saying these are the sides that were left over for the day. The cafeteria has to use a clicker for every person that comes in to get lunch in the cafeteria. We use the clicker to see how many lunches are being given out on any given day. Even though you may have 300 people in the cafeteria, there may only be 115 people eating. So it sends mixed messages about how much food is actually needed. They try to prepare based on the numbers on any given day. Our lunch manager said she never wants to see any of our students go hungry and without a meal. They try to over-prepare. 

Freddrell Green, staff writer: How are you prepared to counter the negative effects of isolation, grief and anxiety for students, especially when it means conflict or other behavioral issues?

Mr. Derricotte: The poverty rate for the east side, where we are, has increased, based on everything we’ve seen during the pandemic. That’s factual, it can be proven, meaning that more of our families on the east side are facing hardships compared to families on the west side of Athens. To counterbalance that, we’ve added behavior specialists to try to make sure that when students have issues that they’re dealing with, they have someone they can reach out to that’s totally outside of a regular counselor — just somebody that is there if they are experiencing hardship. We also have added a mental health counselor to try to help address some of these issues as well.

Assistant News Editor Ikeoluwa Ojo: How will students be identified if they need to meet with a counselor (for mental health)?

Mr. Derricotte: They (the media specialists) have sent out Google Forms and if teachers notice that a student has a high degree of anxiety and/or it looks like they need someone to talk to, we ask for them to submit in the Google Form, and then those individuals identify and figure out the best way to address the student’s needs.

Design Coordinator Aiden Dowling: The county government announced that it will pay unvaccinated people $100 per shot to get the vaccine. How can the school work with the county government? What discussions have been had to ensure that this opportunity is provided to students?

Mr. Derricotte: One of my fundamental things of looking at (the) process is the county government can do one thing. My biggest thing from a school standpoint is don’t make people do something because of a catch: a gift card, a financial way. We want people to make the most informed decision they want to make about being vaccinated, because it’s their choice. We don’t want to do it from a gimmick standpoint, making you feel better. We can’t trade A’s for being vaccinated. So again it goes back to informing people and allowing them to make the most educated decision for themselves, but from a school standpoint we don’t ever want to try and make it seem like you’re only doing this as a gimmick. We are taking it seriously. We want you to do it because you feel like it’s the right thing to do. That’s why we don’t want to send any mixed messages in that regard.