Teacher creates national database of COVID-19-related school closings, cases and deaths


Summary generated on August 16, 2020

    A dedicated educator's local project, initiated out of anticipation of the upcoming academic year, has grown into a national database that tracks coronavirus-related school closings, cases and deaths.

    Alisha Morris, who teaches theater in Kansas' Olathe School District, was scouring the internet for news reports about COVID-19 issues surrounding K-12 school re-openings across the country when she became overwhelmed with information.

    "I was seeing a lot of articles about schools that were opening up and issues already happening on Day 1," Morris said.

    Morris logged the information she found in a spread sheet, shared it with several colleagues and eventually with her school district's board of education.

    "The response I received was astronomical," Morris said.

    "People were like, 'I had no idea. You need to be sharing this.' I figured, if people in Kansas are shocked about this, maybe other people are too."

    Morris spent much of this week posting her spreadsheet - which contains more than 500 entries from more than 40 states dating back to last month - on the Facebook pages of educators and education groups.

    CHECK OUT: MORRIS' NATIONAL DATABASE.Almost all of the entries, which include COVID-19 positive tests among high school coaches and student-athletes, as well as the suspension of summer sports workouts due to coronavirus-related issues, are corroborated with a link to a story from a reputable news outlet.

    "It sort of went viral in the last couple of days," Morris said.

    As Morris' database, which now contains an email address directing readers to submit information or news articles, spread across the internet, her workload increased.

    With readers submitting new information around the clock, she spent 12 hours each of the past three days adding to the database.

    Morris, who plans on transitioning from a crude spreadsheet to a more formal tracking system with the help of several volunteers, said she hopes the information enables school leaders to make educated decisions about re-opening.

    New Jersey Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, who chairs the state's Assembly Higher Education Committee, said "Community-based information from state and local health departments will be the most valuable tool for school officials to be making decisions as the virus moves through different populations and regions," adding "The more information about the virus we have, the better it is for everyone."

    "This database appears to be a good crowd sourcing of national news stories related to schools," Jasey said of Morris' research.

    "Any decisions people make should be based on multiple sources of data, including anecdotal but also statistical information."It's a difficult time for anyone making decisions about returning to some semblance of normal.

    While major news organizations document significant outbreaks or exposures, such as the 1,200 students and staff from one Georgia school district that recently had to quarantine, Morris said she believes smaller episodes across the country are grossly underreported.

    "If there is any action that can be taken, if you are a community member, tell your local news outlet and get it reported," Morris said in reference to her ability to merely scratch the surface of coronavirus-related school matters.

    "Local news is so important because the big news sites aren't covering stuff like this.

    The local news sites are where I could find the really good, accurate information about the districts.

    Morris said she included some anecdotal information that has been reported to her from credible sources via social media, but is reluctant to provide an abundance of those types of entries because she does not want her database to be discredited.

    Morris said she discovered more than 2,000 students, faculty, administrators and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide since the beginning of last month, with the cases being traced to myriad events including in-person schooling, staff meetings, extracurricular activities, summer camps, extended school year programs, graduation ceremonies and others.

    Nearly 200 coaches and student-athletes across the country have tested positive for COVID-19 since teams commenced practices or workouts last month, according to Morris' research.

    "As I was researching the current school openings, all of the student-athlete cases were popping up from the end of July and early August," Morris said.

    Based on the data she compiled, Morris said she believes the coronavirus' impact on athletics programs nationwide is "very widespread.".

    "It's happening all over the country with student-athletes," Morris said.

    More than 100 school personnel and at least 10 students, the youngest in elementary school, died from coronavirus-related issues since the spring, according to Morris' research.

    The vast majority of those deaths, Morris makes clear, do not appear to be school-related.

    Morris said tracking the spread of COVID-19 among the K-12 community is "depressing" and makes her "really worried" for educators, children and their parents.

    "I feel strongly that my district is going to take care of us," Morris said.

    I feel blessed that my district is in a good position.