“I was feeling overwhelmed by all the articles I was seeing online,” Morris, 29, told The Washington Post. “I really thought I was seeing duplicate articles.”
To keep track of what was happening in districts across the country, Morris organized the information from each article into a Google spreadsheet.
“At first I thought it was kind of great that I have something to do now — it can help ease my anxiety and become a purposeful task,” Morris said. “And then it exploded into something pretty overwhelming and pretty depressing.”
In 10 days, her spreadsheet has gone from 30 entries to more than 700 as of early Monday, each representing a separate school that has been affected by covid-19. Its reach is beyond anything she imagined. What started as a tool for her and her colleagues has swelled into a national resource for hundreds of educators and parents around the country.
To Morris’s knowledge, it’s the first publicly available database of schools with covid-19 cases, and it shows nearly every state already has had schools affected by the virus.
“We knew this would happen, and we had tried to make it known that it would happen, but seeing it on paper was, I think, the eye-opening part about it,” Morris said. “It’s just that terrifying moment when you open it up and just keeps scrolling and you’re like: ‘How can there be so many?’ ”
As the Trump administration urges schools to open, outbreaks continue to befall schools that have started in-person classes. The Cherokee County School District in Georgia has shut down three high schools and sent almost 2,000 people to quarantine. In Nebraska this weekend, the Broken Bow School District canceled classes after three staff members tested positive for covid-19.
Morris said she didn’t create the document to push a political agenda — she simply wanted to disseminate as much information as possible to educators.
“My goal is to keep people healthy and save lives and to provide data that can hopefully help people make data-informed decisions for the future of their schools,” Morris said.
Morris is the theater director at Olathe High School, where her own school district has offered parents the choice of online or in-person classes. Morris will hold her extra-curricular theater productions online, but as of now, her classes are expected to be in-person unless the school distract changes the format. Kansas has seen about 33,600 cases of covid-19 and just over 400 deaths to date.
On Aug. 7, Morris started plugging school districts and case numbers into a spreadsheet. Two days later, she sent her initial findings to colleagues and her school board members. Soon, she posted the spreadsheet in teacher Facebook groups, which led to an overwhelming response, she said.
“Many people were very thankful to have that information and equally they were shocked and had no idea that it was this widespread,” Morris said.
When people started sending her more articles, she added a link to upload new information. Hundreds of submissions came pouring in. The work became so overwhelming that Morris accepted help from retired teachers, stay-at-home parents, other educators, and even some students from Rutgers University. Now, she has about 35 people updating the spreadsheet.
“It feels unifying in a time that feels so isolating,” Morris said.
The document is in such high demand that she switched it from being a live spreadsheet, which has a cap of 100 concurrent visitors on the page, to a published one that updates every five minutes with new data imported by herself or one of the volunteers.
When her school contract starts Thursday, she expects she won’t have much more time to dedicate to the spreadsheet. But she wants it to live on as a resource.
“We’ll do it for as long as we can sustain it,” Morris said, though she’s hoping an individual or an organization with more experience can do something more “official than my grass-roots efforts.”
Correction: This story originally misstated the status of Morris’s class for the fall; she will follow the district’s recommendation for online courses or face-to-face instruction, but will hold her extracurricular theater activities online only.