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Duke-led Scientific Advisory Board to Advise DPS on Reopening


When will it be safe for Durham Public Schools students and staff to return to classrooms for in-person learning? When DPS Superintendent Pascal Mubenga and the Durham Public Schools Board of Education decided on July 16 to begin the school year with nine weeks of remote instruction, board members charged school district leaders to identify clear metrics and benchmarks that would answer the question.

That effort received a shot in the arm from some of the nation’s brightest minds in medicine and research Thursday, July 30, as DPS announced a partnership with the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI) to provide cutting-edge data analysis rapid readouts of data on epidemiology, infection transmission rates, and other research. The DCRI-led COVID Scientific Advisory Board will help Dr. Mubenga and the school board engage the community, inform decision-making, and implement district procedures in response to COVID-19.

“We are not scientists or public health officials, but science and public health have to drive our decisions about when and how to open our schools,” said Dr. Mubenga. “In addition to our strong collaboration with Director Rod Jenkins and the Durham County Department of Public Health, working with DCRI will help us tap into national and regional data and trends to protect our students and employees. This is the City of Medicine at its finest.”

The board is led by two pediatricians from DCRI, which is part of the Duke University School of Medicine. Co-chair Kanecia Zimmerman, MD, will oversee efforts with Durham Public Schools. Dr. Zimmerman is an associate professor in critical care and the parent of two DPS students. Her co-chair on the board is Danny Benjamin, MD, PhD, who is a distinguished professor in epidemiology therapeutics. The board includes experts from the School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and Department of Population Health Sciences. 

Duke experts across multiple disciplines—such as epidemiology, pediatrics, general medicine, data science, and mental health—will meet weekly to analyze the most recent local, state, and national trends surrounding the virus and its transmission. Insights from the scientific advisory board will shape creation and implementation of procedures at the school district level on a wide range of topics, from face mask requirements to modes of instruction. The advisory board’s launch is a pilot project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The team is also working with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and has initiated planning with Orange County Schools.

“We are pleased to partner with Durham Public Schools to use local and national data to help our community make informed decisions about how to help keep our children, educators, and families safe,” said Dr. Zimmerman.