District Makes First Report of Positive COVID-19 Tests

Two cases reported in elementary schools as return to in-person instruction approaches


Morgan Fowler

One of the newly reported COVID-19 cases concerned a staff member at Woodbury Elementary School.

A Mercer Elementary School “educational service provider,” a staff member at Woodbury Elementary School and three Shaker students recently tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19. 

These were the first cases of COVID-19 confirmed by the district since the start of the school year. Superintendent David Glasner sent emails to the district and school community addressing each of the positive or presumed positive cases on Oct. 9, Oct. 11 and Oct 12. 

A Shaker Youth Hockey Association coach also tested positive. 

John Morris, SHTA president and high school English teacher, said these cases have confirmed his fears about allowing people back into the school buildings. “I have concerns,” he said. “We have met with the superintendent’s re-opening committee all summer, the SHTA executive board, which is myself, and all the leadership, and we’ve expressed our concerns, I would say, approximately every two weeks since July. We’ve received a number of answers from the district. We still have some outstanding questions that need to be answered.”

The email regarding the Mercer “educational service provider,” sent to staff and families Oct. 9,  addressed safety protocols already in place to ensure the safety of the staff currently working in the building and students when they return to school starting Oct. 26.

When The Shakerite emailed Executive Director of Communications and Engagement Scott Stephens to ask what an “educational service provider” is, he wrote, “Dr. Glasner’s statement is our statement as a District.”

The Oct. 9 district email also stated that the individual had no contact with students, but was in contact with a Mercer coworker, who is now under a mandatory quarantine. 

Mercer Principal Lindsay Florence has not yet replied to the Shakerite’s request for comment. Two Mercer PTO officers contacted for comment could not be reached. 

Another email was sent to staff and the community Oct. 11 regarding a positive case at Woodbury. The email stated, “Over the weekend, we received notification that a staff member at Woodbury Elementary School received a positive test result Saturday for COVID-19. The staff member was last in the Woodbury building on Tuesday.”

“Due to privacy issues I am not able to comment on the Covid-19 case at Woodbury,” Woodbury Principal Tiffany Joseph wrote in an email.

In another Oct. 9 email titled “Update on City Youth Hockey Program,” the district stated that a SHYA coach tested positive, that the program is not affiliated with the district and that there is no known connection with any Shaker Heights High School hockey players or coaches.”  

However, three students have tested positive as of yesterday, according to an Oct. 12 district email that stated that none of the students, who are now quarantining, had been in any district building or involved in any district-sponsored activities. The email did not state that the infected students are youth hockey players. Nevertheless, “as a result of recent cases among youth hockey players and coaches in this area,” the high school hockey program has been suspended at least until the end of this week. 

Senior hockey player Cooper Cook said he understands the decision to shut down the program for now. “I think that it was the right decision to suspend hockey for a week or two,” Cook said. “It’s the right thing to step back to prevent any more cases from happening.”

The SHYA is a partner organization to the city of Shaker Heights for players ages 4-14, a range that means SHYA participants could be students at every district school. The organization comprises 12 teams of 9-12 skaters per team. The SHYA home rink is Thornton Park, and teams travel Northeastern Ohio to play away games.

Thornton Park, a city facility, has COVID-19 guidelines for the rink: Masks are required for those 10 years and older, except while actively playing. Participants must arrive dressed due to locker room closure and use designated entry and exit doors to minimize contact. 

Caitlin FitzGordan, whose son is an SHYA player, said the organization’s response and protocols give her confidence. “We’re on the team that’s been quarantined right now for  two weeks, so we’re not invited to practice or to play right now,” FitsGordon said. “But if and when we’re cleared and it’s deemed safe to do so, yes, I’d send him back.”  

FitzGordan also said that the first email she received was vague and only stated there had been exposure. However, a few hours later, another email was sent alerting her that the positive test involved her son’s team and that their family should quarantine.

The district also sent an email Oct. 6, informing families and staff that “a trainee with Champions tested positive for COVID-19.” Champions is a KinderCare Education company that runs a remote learning center at Woodbury Elementary School. 

According to Stephens, the trainee tested positive for the virus Sept. 28, and Champions sent a message informing families in the program the same day. The trainee was last in the building Sept. 18 and did not exhibit any symptoms at the time, Stephens wrote. 

“No employee for the district or Champions was exposed to this person while they were sick [and] no students were ever exposed to this person,” he wrote. The email from the district to families and staff stated that “Champions shut down the remote learning site September 29 to allow for intensive cleaning.” The program reopened Monday, Oct. 5. 

The Champions program began providing remote learning services to students Sept. 8 at two locations, Shaker Heights Middle School and Woodbury. The program is open to students in grades K-6 and children of Shaker employees grades K-6. The program operates Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and costs $225 per week. 

Champions Childcare asks that students feeling sick stay home for at least 48 hours and that only one parent or guardian picks up and drops off their student every day to minimize exposure. Staff and students undergo temperature checks before the day begins. All adults and children 5 years old and older must wear a mask on site of the Champions program.

In accordance with safety protocols, Glasner wrote in the Oct. 6 email, the Woodbury classroom where the trainee was “has been deep cleaned every night, including electrostatic cleaning, and will continue to be thoroughly cleaned moving forward.” 

The Ohio Department of Education issued an order Sept. 3 that encourages parents and guardians of students and staff to notify their school within 24 hours of receiving a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. Schools are then required to report the cases of a “student, teacher, staff member or coach” to the local health department. 

“While not required, the order recommended districts consider using a dashboard on their website to communicate this information,” wrote Elizabeth Kimmel, executive director of exceptional children and COVID-19 coordinator for the district. 

However, the positive Champions’ trainee case was not recorded in the Shaker COVID-19 dashboard. According to Stephens, the individual is an employee of Champions, not the district, so Shaker is not required to add this case to the dashboard. 

“Under state directive, we are to report only students and staff members,” he wrote in an email. 

The dashboard was created by Assistant Director of Communications Kristen Miller and is updated weekdays at 4 p.m. by Kimmel or Miller. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children under 13 years old are at low risk for COVID-19. However, children can still experience extreme symptoms or death if they contract COVID-19.

The CDC says data about transmission among children is less clear than it was when schools were closed during virus peaks over the summer. “Recent evidence suggests that children likely have the same or higher viral loads in their nasopharynx compared with adults and that children can spread the virus effectively in households and camp settings,” according to the CDC. 

According to the Ohio Department of Health, Cuyahoga County is at a Level Two risk level for exposure and spread of COVID-19, represented by the color orange. The Ohio Public Health Advisory System suggests citizens exercise a “high degree of caution” and “follow all current health orders.” 

At this risk level, the CDC recommends a hybrid learning model where “most students participate in in-person learning, [and] some students participate in virtual learning.” Students, teachers, and all other staff members are advised to prevent transmission through the use of proper face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. 

Cuyahoga County dropped from Level Three, represented by the color red, to Level Two on Aug. 20 and has maintained that status since.

News of the infected employees and students comes two weeks before full-time, onsite K-4 instruction is to resume and hybrid instruction to begin for grades 5-8. The district expects students in grades K-4 “will transition to full onsite learning at the end of October.” The Sept. 22 Board of Education Work Session slide presentation stated that K-1 students will be phased into onsite school Oct. 26, followed by students in second and third grade Oct. 28, and finally, students in fourth grade will be onsite by Oct. 29. 

K-4 students participating in onsite learning will be in school from 8:15 a.m. until 2 p.m. with an available Raider Time until 2:30 p.m., opportunities for outdoor recess and buses to take students home. K-4 students who continue to learn remotely will follow a similar schedule. Students who choose to participate in the online program “will commit to online learning until January 19, 2020, at a minimum.”

Woodbury and middle school students will follow an alternating week model beginning Oct. 26. The Woodbury day will begin at 8:20 a.m. and conclude at 3 p.m. Childcare will be available before and after school beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 6:30 p.m. 

The middle school day will begin at 9:15 a.m. and conclude at 3:30 p.m.

Morris said he understands that people want to be back in school. “This is not something about us. We know that our teaching environment is your learning environment. Ultimately, we feel responsible for students’ safety, so that’s what really pushes us to, at times, seem unreasonable,” he said. 

“Our ultimate fear is less that we become sick, but that one of our students becomes sick, or their families become sick.”

Vivian Bowling, Ben Cox, Morgan Fowler, Rachel Coxon, Jaimee Martin, Brendan Zbanek, Chethan Chandra, Jenna Loveman, Ruth Wilson, Annie Sullivan, Grace Wilkinson, Hope Nosanchuk and Quinn Bruening-Wright contributed reporting.


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