Wayne County schools closed after coronavirus outbreaks have reopened

Students and teachers at a Wayne County elementary school returned to classes Wednesday, nearly a week after the district closed it due to a coronavirus cluster.

North Drive Elementary School became the district’s first cluster after four staff members and two students tested positive for the virus. The school shifted to remote learning after the outbreak. Wayne County Public Schools (WCPS) is operating under a mix of in-person instruction and remote learning.

Interim Superintendent James Merrill said in a statement that the decision to reopen the school came after careful consideration of the risks and two deep cleanings by a professional cleaning crew.

“When staff and students return, it will have been more than two weeks since the last reported case of a positive individual being on campus,” Merrill said in a statement.

Northside became the second WCPS school closed due to an outbreak of coronavirus.

Brogden Primary School closed Oct. 6 after eight people tested positive for the virus.  The school reopened for in-person instruction Tuesday.

School officials said the Brogden outbreak did not rise to the level of a cluster because five cases could not be connected.  State health officials define a cluster as a minimum of five laboratory confirmed cases with illness onsets and five or more connected cases.

The school district also released information about the about the purchase of  personal protective equipment and the number of Chromebooks bought in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Policy Watch requested the information for a story published Oct. 13. 

Critics say financial problem left the district unprepared to reopen for in-person instruction. The district’s superintendent and finance director resigned amid questions about a $5 million budget shortfall and a critical financial audit.

District watchdogs said there aren’t enough Chromebooks for all students to access remote learning. A former teacher and local businesses launched a Chromebook drive to raise money to purchase devices for students.

Wayne County Public Schools spokesman Ken Derksen said the district has issued 6,501 Chromebooks and 479 wi-fi hot spots for student use during the pandemic. The district is awaiting delivery of  7,639 Chromebooks, he said.

“Once the new Chromebooks arrive, WCPS will be 1:1 for all middle and high grades (1 Chromebook per student) and will be able to support elementary grades,” Derksen said.

Derksen also shared information about the purchase of personal protective equipment.

Teachers told an officer in the local branch of the NAACP that the district didn’t give them the  resources needed keep students safe.

“They [teachers] told me that they were given a bucket, some dirty rags, one bottle of sanitizer and a mask, and that’s what they were supposed to use to clean their classrooms and keep their classrooms clean,” Smith told Policy Watch. “I’m sorry, that’s not how you deep clean.”

Here’s what Derksen had to say in an email message to Policy Watch. The message included an attachment with a long list of personal protective equipment purchases:

WCPS continues using special state and federal funding to purchase cleaning equipment and supplies to support sanitization and disinfectant efforts at schools. Every school has been provided disinfectant cleaning equipment that can be used daily to disinfect both the air and contact surfaces in all of the classrooms, common areas, restrooms, and other areas where people have been. Additionally, similar disinfectant cleaning equipment has been purchased for daily cleaning of buses. Classroom supplies continue being purchased to support teacher and staff efforts to sanitize desks and other contact surfaces in between students. Since the start of school, teachers have been provided refillable hand sanitizer, wipes and cleaning solution, which will be refilled and resupplied as needed. Hand sanitizer stations have also been provided to all of the schools for placement in key areas of their campus.

WCPS is actively restocking schools and classrooms as needed while at the same time it is working to keep supplies ordered and on hand.



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