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Drew: Bessemer City Schools Superintendent Dr. Autumn Jeter on COVID Safety

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By Samuetta Hill Drew


This week’s article is the second in a safety series which reviews various COVID-19 safety measures some school districts in Jefferson County are using to maintain a safe learning environment for their students and employees. Everyone recognizes the serious nature of this COVID-19 pandemic and how it has impacted every aspect of our daily lives. Life as we once knew it has drastically changed, but life and learning must continue using necessary safeguards. This article explores how Dr. Autumm Jeter, Superintendent, and Bessemer City Schools work with all appropriate parties to address learning in a COVID-19 environment.

Q. Will you describe your school district’s process for monitoring COVID-19 cases among employees and students? How often is this monitoring process conducted?

A.  Bessemer City Schools has created a COVID-19 Response Team which consists of the superintendent, human resources director, student services director, lead nurse, principal, and the director that oversees pre-kindergarten. Principals/directors report positive cases to the COVID-19 response team. From there, a series of conversation pursues. Notices are sent to the necessary individuals. If the positive case(s) was in the school or office building within the last 48 hours of reporting, the facilities director activates our board approved cleaning company to come in and sanitize the designated locations. The superintendent notifies board members of COVID numbers each week, unless the reported positive case numbers are below three.
A portion of the responsibility of the COVID-19 response team is to pay close attention to and track trends of positive cases in one location, classroom, school, office, or building. The purpose of tracking trends of positive cases in various locations is to determine if remote learning is warranted. In the event clusters of positive cases arise and the decision is made to place that location (classroom, grade level, building, district) on remote learning, a letter is sent to parents immediately, as well as other communications via the district School Messenger system. Although not required, close contact letters are sent to the parents of those students who were identified as close contacts. The same applies to employees.
The superintendent and team recognize that school districts are only required to send positive cases home, and that all other mitigation strategies are optional. Bessemer City Schools maintains a mask mandate, offers COVID-19 testing daily in the schools through a partnership with UAB, and provides monthly vaccination clinics through a partnership with The Jefferson County Department of Public Health. The school district also updates its COVID-19 dashboard weekly.

Q. Once the COVID-19 data is collected, how is it used?

A. The data is used to track trends of possible clusters of positive cases in various locations. Maintaining a close watch on the positive trends allows the COVID-19 Response Team to determine if remote learning in our schools or remote work in office locations is warranted. We also use the data to report publicly on our dashboard which is housed on the school district’s website (www.bessk12.org). COVID-19 numbers are shared weekly with board members by the superintendent unless the reported positive case numbers are below three.

Q. Can you describe your COVID-19 safeguards used in your school district to keep employees, students, and visitors safe?

A. Dr. Autumm Jeter, Superintendent, and team recognize that school districts are only required to send positive cases home, and that all other mitigation strategies are optional. Bessemer City Schools, inclusive of Board of Education members, feel the strategies put in place are what’s best for the district. Bessemer City Schools maintains a mask mandate:
• Offers COVID-19 testing daily in the school through a partnership with UAB
• Provides monthly vaccination clinics through a partnership with The Jefferson County Department of Public Health
• Updates its COVID-19 dashboard weekly
• Sends professional cleaning services in areas of reported positive COVID-19 cases within the last 48 hours
• Places air purifiers in various locations in and around school and office buildings
• Adheres to the ADPH and CDC guidelines regarding social distancing
• Distributes sanitizing agents to all schools and departments
• Provides PPE: masks, gloves, face shields, etc. to schools and departments
• Has desk protectors in classrooms between students and teachers
• Has custodial cleaning at least twice a week throughout the day of classrooms, restrooms, cafeteria, buses, offices and other areas with the backpack defogger
• Isolates students and employees when known positive cases arise, according to CDC guidelines
• Installs touchless items throughout the district such as: water fountains, standalone hand sanitizer stations, soap dispenser, and power hand dryers.
• Sends emails, texts and verbal reminders to parents regarding COVID expectation

Q.  How do you stay abreast with current COVID-19 trends in your area?

A. The full COVID-19 response team attends various webinars when offered by The Jefferson County Department of Public Health. The student services director, lead nurse and other personnel attend health meetings, which include COVID conversations that may be offered through the Alabama State Department of Education. Superintendent Jeter attends monthly district superintendent meetings where COVID conversations are held; and when necessary, Dr. Jeter consults directly with The Jefferson County Department of Health for conversations on guidance that they offer, recommendations and trends in the Western Jefferson County area. The student services director attends national seminars to stay abreast of the latest trends and information related to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also frequently visits the CDC website for updates and recommendations.
Local news reports have proven to be helpful in providing an overall view of trends in the greater Jefferson County area.
It is important we do not let our COVID-19 safeguards down, but rather continue to Keep an Eye on Safety regardless of our work and/or school situation. It is obvious this and last week that both superintendents, along with their Boards and others, are doing just that.