SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - The Dorchester County School District Two board is putting changes into place to protect students and faculty from COVID-19 days ahead of a return to in-person instruction at the district’s schools.
Students and staff will head back to in-personal schooling on Thursday. The seven days of virtual learning appear to have achieved its chief goal of reducing the number of students and staffing missing school because of COVID-19. DD2 nursing staff estimates just 326 students and four staff members will still be in quarantine when class resumes in-person.
That’s a dramatic decrease in quarantine numbers that peaked above 5,000 students and staff before going all virtual last Monday.
The district has implemented several changes since going virtual, one of which is the length of time certain staff and students are required to quarantine. Students without symptoms will only have to quarantine for 10 days while staff without symptoms will have a 7-day quarantine. Those who are fully vaccinated and not showing symptoms are not required to quarantine.
Those changes were also retroactively applied to those currently quarantining.
Along with changing quarantine procedures, a number of physical improvements have been made as well to help prevent the numbers from skyrocketing again once the students come back. In the last week, more than 400 air purifiers have been installed. District officials say all rooms that needed purifiers have now been covered.
Superintendent Joseph Pye also announced they are looking into a partnership with a busing company to supplement their fleet with an additional six busses. Students will also face an adjusted bell schedule that will give bus drivers more time to clean between routes and reduce the number of students on board.
Another partnership announced but still in the works is one with an outside company that will help the district’s nursing staff with contact tracing.
Students can look out for additional signage encouraging social distancing and reduced activity time in classes like band and choir. Desk orientations are changing as well as the district is asking teachers to have all desks facing one direction and to strictly stick to a seating chart.
After school extracurriculars are no longer allowed, but principals can apply for exemptions with district leadership. This move is being brought back from last year and is intended to have activity organizer actively consider how they’ll implement health protocols. Field trips are also out of the question right now.
Visitors are also being asked to schedule their visits and to meet virtually whenever possible.
The district has also adopting DHEC’s guidelines for when to shut down a class or schools. Those guidelines call for closing a class or a school if 5-10% or higher of the student body population has simultaneously tested positive. Those same rules recommend shutting down if absenteeism reaches 30%.
Ideally, these measures will prevent cases from exploding again in one of the hardest hit counties in the state, but board member Justin Farnsworth isn’t sold on the idea.
“These mitigation efforts that we talked about tonight are fantastic and I think it will make a difference on the ground to a certain degree,” Farnsworth said. “I’m going to tell you, two or three weeks from now, my gut is telling me is telling me that two or three weeks from now we are going to have 5,000 kids out on quarantine again.”
Farnsworth – not advocating for or against masks specifically – was making the point that DHEC has different quarantining guidelines for students with masks and those without. Farnsworth said the only way to reduce the number of close contacts is to wear a mask, which is the only mitigation measure the state legislature has barred.
The board allowed a total of 42 minutes of public comments, accommodating 14 speakers. Most of them asked the board to pursue a mask mandate. Several spoke against masks. Almost all of them told district leaders that virtual was not working for their families. Many others showed up to speak but were unable to because of the time limit.
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