Berg Jones Elementary closed as Covid spreads, Johnson upset

The shutdown of Berg Jones Lane Elementary School for an entire week due to Covid concerns was not an agenda topic for Tuesday’s school board meeting, but one board member, Brandon “B.J.” Johnson, said the board needs to become more concerned about the safety of its students.

School officials confirmed Monday that Berg Jones Lane Elementary will be closed this week after 20 staff members reported absentees due to Covid-19 positive exposures.

Johnson said the district is entering the flu season when it will be hard to tell the difference between Covid and the flu. He said Berg Jones has been shut down for a week and others have a high number of cases.

Johnson urged the board to become proactive in fighting the COVID disease by recognizing that as the holidays come students and teachers will risk high exposures at home and instantly return to school at the end of the holiday. He urged the board to consider using its virtual platform for the first week after a holiday to protect against the Covid virus.

On the district’s website, a notice was posted Monday that students at Berg Jones will use the school’s virtual platform this week while the school facilities are deep cleaned. The notice said in-person classes will resume on November 16th.

Berg Jones is one of several city schools that have reported Covid-19 exposures, but the issue is never scheduled for discussion or review by the school board and is not addressed by Superintendent Brent Vidrine.

The district’s growing Covid problem has been the constant theme of Board member Brandon Johnson, who complains that the district is taking the Covid problem lightly. It is only discussed at board meetings when Johnson raises questions.

Johnson said Monday a second school, Cypress Point Elementary, was on the verge of closing Monday after about 15 of its staff members report Covid exposures.

Covid exposures have been reported at Clara Hall Elementary. Carroll High School and Wossman High School have reported Covid Exposures among staff and students, forcing the cancellation of several high school football games. Martin Luther King Middle School’s principal tested positive, and a non-symptomatic central office employee has tested positive for Covid four times.

Johnson says student and staff safety should be the district’s priority, but instead, the board doesn’t even discuss the issue. Three city school board members have been treated for Covid exposures that have required quarantines and treatment.

The district, according to Johnson, is not prepared for in-person classes. He has advocated for virtual classes until students can safely gather in person.

Johnson said he plans to use his board member comments time to bring up the subject. In previous meetings, he has been a lone voice speaking about the danger that faculty and students are exposed to because of the district’s lackadaisical response to the Pandemic.

At board meetings, Superintendent Vidrine says the district is complying with the CDC guidelines for schools and the governor’s proclamation. No report is given at meetings of the impact Covid is having on the district or its response.

Often board members learn of Covid incidences at its schools from news and social media, instead of updates from the superintendent, Johnson says.
Johnson said as more teachers report Covid exposure, the problem intensifies. “We don’t have enough substitutes. Substitutes are afraid to come where it’s not safe,” Johnson said.

Vidrine has refused to provide regular testing for teachers, placing the cost of frequent testing on staff. He told the board before the opening of school this year that the district will use the “honor system” and depend on teachers to self-test and self-report their exposures.

Johnson says many teachers who test positive but show no symptoms, will report to work under the honor system because the system will not pay them for self-quarantine time after ten days. To avoid loss of income, Johnson says, some teachers keep positive results to themselves.