The Investigators: COVID-19 is in schools; is your school doing enough to keep students safe?

The Investigators: COVID-19 is in schools; is your school doing enough to keep students safe?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Public tracking tools are now available in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee that show the number of COVID-19 cases by school or school district.

But what do the numbers mean for your child’s safety?

A week after in-person classes resumed in DeSoto County, more than 100 students were sent back home district-wide because they’d been exposed to COVID-19 in their schools.

That number eventually climbed to nearly 300 possible exposures.

“How confident do you feel that your child is going to be safe at school?” The Investigators asked parent Deana Sides.

Her son is a senior at DeSoto Central High School and she’s PTO president.

“I feel very, 100% confident,” she said. “I have been over at the school and everyone has been wearing a mask, everyone is walking their six feet apart, they are keeping a complete handle on it at the school.”

Even so, 35% of DeSoto County students chose to avoid the added risk altogether and learn virtually at home this year.

“It does not surprise me,” said Sides. “Every family is different. Every circumstance in your family is different and there’s going to be people that don’t feel comfortable with it.”

It’s difficult to blame them when reports like these sprout up on a weekly basis.

About a week after reopening, 130 elementary, middle and high school students in Corinth, Mississippi were sent home because they were exposed to COVID-19 at school.

200 4th graders at Lafayette Upper Elementary in Oxford were forced to quarantine two weeks after classes began because three teachers tested positive.

In late August, 300 students, faculty and staff were quarantined and all classes moved online at Collierville High School because two football players, and later 12 others, contracted Coronavirus.

It was the first true cluster at a Shelby County School, according to the health department.

However, health experts say you have to look beyond the numbers to get a good read on whether your school is doing enough to keep kids safe.

“All the number does is reflect what’s going on in the community. We want to know what’s actually going on within the walls of the school,” said Dr. Sandy Arnold, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

“Really, what you want to look at is... if there’s a case in the classroom, are other kids in the classroom getting sick?”

To prevent that from happening, Dr. Arnold points to the CDC guidelines, which say students should physically distance by remaining at least six-feet apart, face masks should be worn most times, and hand hygiene and frequent cleaning should be prioritized.

“If it’s clear that there has been spread within the school then they’re going to have to revisit their policies,” said Dr. Arnold.

We looked at the policies for Collierville, Lafayette, Corinth and DeSoto County schools.

DeSoto’s Back to School plan states “social distancing will be maintained to the greatest extent possible”.

Corinth’s plan reads, schools will adhere to “all Mississippi Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control Guidelines.”

Lafayette’s plan doesn’t mention physical distancing or face masks.

While Collierville’s plan states all desks will be spaced six feet apart and students are required to wear face masks.

However, according to Dr. Arnold, one activity in particular could accelerate the spread of the virus: team sports.

Harding Academy recently moved its high school online after 11 student athletes tested positive for COVID-19.

“You’re going to be close to each other, there’s going to be shouting, there’s going to be heavy breathing because there’s going to be running and all off those things enhance the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Arnold. “Playing team sports is going to interfere with keeping schools open and keeping kids in the classroom.”

Sides’ son is on the DeSoto Central baseball team.

Her family would forgo the sport if it meant staying in school instead.

“If they start seeing a spread of COVID-19 due to sports in general then I would be OK with that,” she said.

Dr. Arnold hopes all parents would be OK with the decision to cancel team sports should it need to be made.

In-person learning is proven to be more effective, academically and socially.

To track COVID-19 by school in Mississippi, click here.

To track COVID-19 by school district in Arkansas, click here.

To track COVID-19 by school in Tennessee, click here.

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