By Samuetta Hill Drew
It has been two years since I began writing articles about the pandemic named the Coronavirus COVID-19. This new virus struck the world like a F5 tornado! Our country, like all others, has been negatively impacted in so many ways. Our daily lives were abruptly halted and a new normal is slowly emerging while this virus continues to reinvent itself with various types of new variants, some more contagious and deadly than others. Our new normal includes home virus tests, facial masks when in public, temperature checks before entering certain locations and events and vaccinations along with boosters.
In the midst of the emerging new normal are schools. Most schools have re-opened and the education of students remains a priority. Schools had to make a pivotal change to balance students’ and employees’ safety while preparing students for the future. The next three safety articles will have a Q&A with three superintendents in the greater Birmingham area to discuss how they are balancing safety and education in a COVID-19 environment. We will begin this week with Dr. Mark Sullivan Ed.D., Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools.
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. Birmingham City Schools provides consistent monitoring of COVID-19 cases. First of all, our voluntary testing program gives students and employees access to free testing every week, and the school district gets a report on these numbers. This is part of an initiative under the direction of the UAB School of Public Health with support from the Alabama Department of Health and State Department of Education. Employees and parents also are encouraged to report cases to school health. The Nursing Coordinator provides the Superintendent with daily updates on cases throughout the district.
Q. Once the COVID-19 data is collected, how is it used?
A. The nursing coordinator monitors the numbers and provides the Superintendent with daily updates on cases throughout the district. These numbers are used to determine next steps. If it is determined that the number of staff absences at a school, in class or grade level is too great to operate effectively, a decision may be made to transition to remote learning. Parents and employees are informed of those decisions. More than 12,000 individual tests have been administered in Birmingham City Schools since September 2021.
Q. Can you describe your COVID-19 safeguards used in your school district to keep employees, students, and visitors safe?
A. Birmingham City Schools was one of the first public school districts to require masks in all buildings. We have consistently encouraged vaccinations, and we have hosted vaccination clinics throughout the district. Custodians regularly clean all buildings with environmentally safe sanitizing spray that kills COVID. The school district requires social distancing. Making personal protective equipment (PPE) available for all students and employees is a priority for Birmingham City Schools. The District has used some of its federal allocation to make PPE available and is putting in place a plan to make it more accessible to teachers and other employees.
Q. How do you stay abreast with current COVID-19 trends in your area?
A. The Superintendent maintains consistent dialogue with the county health officer. The Nursing Coordinator participates regularly in public health updates with state and county public health leaders. The County Health Officer or representative participates in all COVID Conversations Town Hall sessions.
It is important we all Keep an Eye on Safety as we continue to be cautious and safe living our lives in a new normal. Staying abreast of the latest COVID-19 data and recommendations in our community is essential.