• 81°

The return to the classroom took a lot of work, not luck

Cases of COVID-19 in our public and private schools since students returned to the classroom in August have been minimal. But, those thankfully low numbers have not been by luck. They are a result of hard work, thoughtful planning and strict adherence to new policies.

The Vicksburg Warren School District, Vicksburg Catholic School and Porter’s Chapel Academy did their due diligence leading up to the start of the school year and a return to in-person teaching by putting in place measures to keep students, staff and administration safe.

All of the schools made sure to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, which included mask mandates, social distancing guidelines and availability of hand sanitizer, among other things. 

To keep facilities clean, janitorial staff and contractors increased their workloads, and in some instances, teachers and staff helped out with sanitation processes.

“To keep our school clean and disinfected this school year our custodial staff made certain that throughout the course of the day all high traffic areas were sanitized,” Porter’s Chapel Academy Head of School Chris Williams said. “At the end of each day, rooms were sanitized, including all desks and seating. Each week we also utilized a hydrostatic sprayer to disinfect the entire building. This did not necessarily keep our cleaning crew from taking care of their regular duties, it just added to them.

“However I do believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have the best cleaning crew in Warren County. Mr. Fred and Mrs. Linda are absolutely amazing at keeping our school in tip-top shape.”

At the Vicksburg Catholic School, faculty and staff pitched in to help the maintenance crew, Director of Development and Alumni Affairs Kristi Smith said.

In addition to the janitorial services contracted with ABM, Vicksburg Warren School District spokesperson Christi Kilroy said, “The District also added the Clorox 360 disinfecting system.” Additional safety protocols at some schools included students eating in their classrooms and plexiglass guards.

These added safety measures came at a cost.

Fortunately, the VWSD received federal funding to support the additional need for cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, Kilroy said, which included disinfectant, wipes, hand sanitizer, gloves and masks.

“These supplies were then distributed to each school as needed and requested by the principal and to central office staff as needed,” she said.

VCS also received a “small allocation from federal programs,” Smith said to assist with some of the expenses.

“The school also received some donations, both monetary and supplies, from local agencies, businesses and individuals,” she said.

Williams said PCA has relied on the generosity of its donors to help out with added expenses.

“The cost of additional disinfectant and cleaning supplies drastically increased this school year and quite honestly was not in our budget,” Williams said. “However due to the generous donations of a few friends of PCA we have been very fortunate. The Lord has truly provided for us as needed.”

Working to keep schools clean and sanitized was necessary for re-opening. But the schools also had to decide how to address possible exposure to the virus and what to do if students, staff, and or administrators were diagnosed with COVID-19.

“The District followed Mississippi State Department of Health guidelines for contact tracing and quarantining staff and students who may have been exposed,” Kilroy said.

The staff at Porter’s Chapel was trained, Williams said, on what symptoms to watch for in students and were monitored throughout the course of the school day.

“If a student showed any of these symptoms or ran a fever we removed them from their class and placed them in a quarantine room. In this room, we were able to monitor the student until a parent was able to pick them up,” Williams said. “If a student was positive, we made sure that we were diligent with our contact tracing to assure any and all exposed students in close contact were quarantined.”

Following policies in place by the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, as well as CDC guidelines for contact tracing, Smith said VCS works with parents and teachers to quickly identify those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

“We specifically identify students and staff who may have been in contact with a positive case for more than 15 minutes, within 6 feet or without a mask,” she said, at which time families are informed and those exposed are quarantined.

With almost all of the student quarantines being a result of exposure outside of the school, Smith said, VCS is careful in how they proceeded when someone has either been exposed or tested positive.

“Being diligent but not overreacting to positive cases and potential exposures have allowed us to safely keep the most number of students in class and safe,” she said.

As with other schools throughout the state, PCA, VCS, and the VWSD all had to report weekly to the state health department the number of new COVID-19 cases in teachers, staff and students and the number of those quarantined. And for students who were quarantined, all of the Vicksburg schools offered distance learning.

“This past school year has certainly been challenging, but I do believe that God has brought us through these unprecedented times stronger and better prepared for anything that comes our way,” Williams said.

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

email author More by Terri Cowart