School & District Management

A COVID-19 Lull Gives Way to ‘Borderline Insanity’

By Denisa R. Superville — January 14, 2021 3 min read
Andy McGill, K-12 assistant principal at West Liberty-Salem Local School District in West Liberty, Ohio.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When school opened in September, the number of coronavirus cases in West Liberty, Ohio, was low enough that students could go to school in person five days a week. Only about 10 percent of the district’s 1,280 students opted to stay at home and learn remotely.

Just two staff members had had COVID-19, one before school started and the other shortly after.

“It almost seemed nonexistent in our community,” said Andy McGill, an assistant principal in the K-12 West Liberty-Salem Local School District. McGill oversees the remote learning program on top of his normal administrative duties—which now include COVID-19 response and contact tracing.

See Also

Dave Steckler, principal at Red Trail Elementary School in Mandan, North Dakota, got and recovered from COVID and has dealt with the logistical issues around staff and students who were infected.
Dave Steckler, principal at Red Trail Elementary School in Mandan, North Dakota, got and recovered from COVID and has dealt with the logistical issues around staff and students who were infected.
Tom Stromme for Education Week

But around early November, the number of students affected by the coronavirus started to grow, leaving McGill, a secretary, the elementary school principal, and the school nurse feeling overwhelmed.

Through the end of November, nearly 140 of the district’s students had missed school either because they had contracted COVID-19 or had been exposed to the coronavirus and had to quarantine. Sixteen staff members missed school through December because they had to quarantine.

“It’s been borderline insanity trying to contact-trace,” McGill said. “We found that the majority of the issues were coming from homes, from community spread. We would have a student who would test positive because they had a parent who had tested positive.

The Salem-West Liberty district has hammered out a iron-clad routine when there’s a positive case. Get the seating chart from the student’s teachers. If the student takes the bus, get the bus seating chart. Scour video from cafeteria cameras. Isolate students. Call their parents.

But when a middle school basketball player tested positive for the coronavirus just before Thanksgiving, it became an all-hands-on-deck effort. The athlete’s parent called near the end of the day, setting off a scramble to locate and isolate students before any could get on the bus.

It’s been borderline insanity trying to contact trace.

That one positive case “wiped out the basketball team” because the entire team had to quarantine, McGill said.

After finding out when the student first exhibited symptoms, McGill and his colleagues got to work, tracing the student’s steps on campus from 48 hours before the positive test result.

They studied footage from two days of basketball practice to see who she had close contact with.

They contacted teachers to get updated seating charts—every teacher had to file seating charts with the office at the start of the school year—to see who was sitting next to her.

They did the same with lunchroom video—that’s another place where there’s high exposure because students remove their masks to eat. Their job was made easier because student seating is assigned.

When they had a clear idea of how many kids were in close contact with the infected student, they quickly got them out of classrooms.

(The school had strict protocols in place for athletes, who were required to wear masks except when they were on the court.)

Then came the calls to parents to pick up their children and start the quarantine period. Fortunately, no one else on the team tested positive, he said.

McGill’s daughter was one of the players who had to miss practice and her teammates for nearly two weeks.

“In the first few five hours of being quarantined, we were all miserable,” McGill said. “It was life-altering in her mind.”

The hardest part, he said, is telling students they must quarantine. That was especially so around Thanksgiving when they were looking forward to spending time with family.

He remembers a 4th grader who was told she had to go home. She held it together until she was out of the room, and then broke down in tears.

“You don’t want to do that, but it’s part of it,” he said. “It does wear on you. It truly does.”

He and his staff have had to remain flexible. With coronavirus cases increasing in the community after Thanksgiving, the district switched to a hybrid schedule and only reopened for in-person learning earlier this month.

“We’re fortunate that we have our kids in the building,” said McGill. “After last spring, I really empathize with anyone who can’t have their kids in the building.”

Coverage of principals and school leadership is supported in part by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/programs/education-economic. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
Science K-12 Essentials Forum How To Teach STEM Problem Solving Skills to All K-12 Students
Join experts for a look at how experts are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Principals: Supporting Your Teachers Doesn't Have to Be Such Hard Work
Principals can show teachers they care by something as simple as a visit to their classrooms or a pat on the back.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management From Our Research Center Nearly Half of Educators Say Climate Change Is Affecting Their Schools—or Will Soon
Most educators said their school districts have not taken any action to prepare for more severe weather, a new survey finds.
6 min read
Global warming illustration, environment pollution, global warming heating impact concept. Change climate concept.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Opinion 7 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers
Listening more than talking is one vital piece of advice for school leaders to help teachers.
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
School & District Management What Schools Can Do to Tackle Climate Change (Hint: More Than You Think)
For starters, don't assume change is too difficult.
7 min read
Haley Williams, left, and Amiya Cox hold a sign together and chant while participating in a "Global Climate Strike" at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Across the globe hundreds of thousands of young people took the streets Friday to demand that leaders tackle climate change in the run-up to a U.N. summit.
Haley Williams, left, and Amiya Cox participate in a Global Climate Strike at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., in September 2019.
Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Record via AP