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Juvenile Justice education staff back at work with coronavirus concerns

Posted at 9:49 PM, Jul 10, 2020

BALTIMORE — As state and local leaders work on a plan to reopen schools in the fall, some educators are already back in the classroom.

The juvenile justice system brought their staff back in 3 weeks ago.

Over the last few weeks WMAR-2 News's Eddie Kadhim had a lot of staff members reach out with concerns about working in the facility with new positive cases happening since reopening.

He brought their concerns to the spokespeople for the Juvenile Justice System and the State Department of Education.

They both said the class sizes are very small and they are strictly following all CDC guidelines to keep staff and students as safe as possible.

There is no summer break from the Juvenile Justice education system.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started employees have struggled as they weigh going to to work against putting themselves and their loved ones at risk.

Kadhim spoke to employees in March when they were still working in the facility, even after other schools were shut down for several weeks.

They did switch to telework shortly after that story aired.

But as June 22 approached they started reaching out again because that’s the date they physically went back to work.

Victoria Rentz-Damond is a Psychologist for the Juvenile Justice Center School.

“We had been told in March for those two weeks when they made us keep working when everybody else was closed they reclassified us as essential,” Rentz Diamond said. “They gave us double pay for one week and took it away after one week. After the second week your story aired and I still think that’s the reason that they were shamed into finally putting us on telework for 12 weeks.”

Eric Solomon, the Director of Communications for Department of Juvenile Services sent a statement that you can read in full below.

Solomon said they’ve reported all positive staff to the health department and that the safety and security of all DJS staff, youth and others working in the facility and community is the departments highest priority.

Saying they’re following best practices as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and the Maryland department of Health and that the entire facility is cleaned by an infectious disease cleaning vendor.

Sharon Joseph, a counselor for the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center acknowledged there have been efforts made to social distance, wear masks and change protocol, but says it’s not working.

“We have screening protocols when everyone enter the building each time you enter the building you’re screened,” Joseph said. “However we’re still a fairly large group of people in a small facility. It’s very challenging to social distance. Our students are still fighting wearing masks so that’s not happening on a consistent basis.”

Solomon said they have a quality assurance team that monitors video surveillance to ensure masks are worn and classrooms are thoroughly cleaned before and after classes.

And when it comes to numbers he said:

“The Department has a low positivity rate of 1.2 percent at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center. At this facility, DJS has tested 500 staff since Universal testing began in June. Out of the 500 staff that were tested, only 6 staff members tested positive.”

Staff is asking for more transparency in reporting the numbers.

They say they know of at least 5 cases they weren't officially told about.

“While we were notified of the first case on June 24th when we returned we received a letter from our Human Resources that evening,” Joseph said. “It wasn’t until last night that we received a second notification about a second case.”

The staff was told not come to work Friday because of the positive test the day before, and the deep clean they are doing.

Solomon said they are on schedule to complete universal testing by the end of July, but can alter the schedule if necessary.

Here are the full statements from the Department of Education and Department of Justice:

DJS has identified and reported all positive staff to the health department. [...] The safety and security of all DJS staff, youth, others working in the facility and the community is the department’s highest priority.

By law, the Department of Juvenile Services is required to provide education services in all of its facilities. Education in a DJS facility is similar to a community school in that youth receive 6 hours of instruction a day. The primary difference is that education is provided year round in DJS facilities due to the fact that DJS facilities operate and provide services to youth every day of the year. Education services are provided by the Maryland State Department of Education through its Juvenile Services Education System (JSES), which provides the curriculum, the teachers and support staff for all DJS schools.

The Department has a low positivity rate of 1.2 percent at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center. At this facility, DJS has tested 500 staff since Universal testing began in June. Out of the 500 staff that were tested, only 6 staff members tested positive. There have been no positive youth cases at BCJJC since universal testing has started. The Department is on schedule to complete universal testing by the end of July, but can alter the schedule if necessary. DJS has identified and reported all positive staff to the health department. We have no evidence that would suggest that there was a connection between any of the cases. Additionally, DJS continues to perform contact tracing.

The safety and security of all DJS staff, youth, others working in the facility and the community is the department’s highest priority. In consultation with the DJS Medical Director, a board-certified pediatrician with a specialization in adolescent medicine, and DJS Health Administrator, a registered nurse, DJS began implementing significant infection control measures in February and March to prepare for the impending arrival of the COVID-19 virus in Maryland. These measures are best practices as noted by the Centers for Disease Control and the Maryland Department of Health.

Every staff that has tested positive has had direct communication from DJS’ Medical Director, as well as a letter sent to them with their results and additional resources available. As for youth, we call parents and tell the youth as well. CDC criteria states that staff should medically isolate at home and youth are able to medically isolate at the facility. As far as cleaning, DJS has a contract with an infectious disease cleaning vendor. The entire facility is cleaned. They will return if there are any positive cases. DJS staff are also trained to clean high touched surfaces, in addition to awareness posters and mandatory social distancing and masking.