Education

Durham private schools where 26 students, teachers tested positive for the coronavirus reopened this week

For nine consecutive weeks, Liberty Christian School, a private school in Durham, held in-person classes without a single teacher, student or staffer contracting the coronavirus.

But two weeks ago, 20 students and six teachers tested positive, tagging Liberty Christian with the dubious distinction of having had one of the state’s largest school coronavirus clusters. Wayne Christian School in Goldsboro had the largest cluster with 35 reported cases.

Liberty Christian closed. The K-12 school of 253 students and approximately 40 teachers switched to online classes. School officials worked with the Durham County Health Department to ensure the school was cleaned and that safety precautions are in place.

Principal Kyle Ketner has been unable to pinpoint the source of the virus.

Kyle Ketner

“Honestly, I’m not able to trace that back to the exact event or what took place or what transpired,” Ketner said. “I can’t comment, concretely on that.”

Liberty Christian reopened Monday after school leaders consulted with the health department officials. The school is associated with Liberty Baptist Church.

“We opened on August 19th for in-person instruction and we went nine weeks without any positive cases, and that was a great feat,”  Ketner said. “And then, when it hit, it obviously is going to spread, but then we can’t control what happens outside. There’s a lot of factors that weigh in.”

Despite the outbreak, Ketner said the school hasn’t lost any students to other schools.

“We’re so thankful that we have great kids, great families and we’re trying to keep things as safe as possible, and we’re so thankful right now we don’t have any positive cases that we’re aware of; and the ones [students] that are quarantining are participating in online learning until they clear health department guidelines on their quarantines,” Ketner said.

Ketner knows of no hospitalizations as a result of the outbreak. Some students and teachers experienced mild symptoms, he said, while symptoms in others were more severe.

Ketner said students and staff at Liberty Christian wore masks, social distanced and washed their hands frequently and will continue to do so.

“We’ve taken those [health guidelines seriously] and have done that to the very best of our ability,” Ketner said

The outbreak at Liberty Christian shows how quickly the virus spreads and how schools can suddenly be forced to close.

A Raleigh News & Observer analysis last month showed that private schools have more COVID-19 clusters than public schools and have generally had more confirmed cases in those clusters. Private schools aren’t bound by the same health rules as public schools.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services lists 522 coronavirus cases associated with 36 clusters on its Covid-19 North Carolina dashboard.

Public schools teachers across North Carolina have begun to express concern about returning to schools for in-person instruction as more school boards adopt plans to reopen buildings.

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