Gov. Henry McMaster Wednesday touted the Kershaw County School District’s efforts to stay open for in-person instruction and limit how many students and staff have to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.
Visiting Camden Elementary School, McMaster called the district a “model” school district. Since the Aug. 5 start of the school year, of all students who have had to quarantine, fewer than 1% have actually tested positive for COVID-19.
The school district checks temperatures as people come into buildings, limits the number of visitors, keeps desks at least 3 feet apart, uses seating charts on buses to determine close contacts, disinfects buildings every day and uses plexiglass dividers. Each school district also uses isolation rooms for anyone who displays any symptoms.
The district encourages masks be worn in the school, going as far to put signs up. Nurses who participated Wednesday were seen wearing masks themselves.
“What our data tells us is our community is doing an amazing job in supporting our efforts to keep our buildings open,” said Superintendent Shane Robbins, who added the district would pivot if it saw a change in numbers.
Most of the COVID-19 cases among students and staff have come because of activities or exposure from outside the school setting such other activities or camps, school district officials said.
“I’ve said all along that looking at every tool that we have in our tool chest to try to mitigate spread is what we want to do. We’re a county school district, and so it really varies across our county and our community on what we’re seeing,” Robbins said. “Is it (a mask mandate) a tool that I’d like to be able to use? Yes, possibly, but it’s not one that I feel like we need to mandate in our school district right now.”
This school year so far, schools have already reported nearly 7,500 cases among students and staff, according to data from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. It has led to more students needing to quarantine because of potential exposure and forcing some school districts to go into virtual learning again for short periods of time.
McMaster has said he believes it should be up to parents to decide whether they want their kids to wear masks in schools, and districts should not be able to mandate it.
“What has been done here is demonstrating you do not need to force people to do things in order to make great progress,” McMaster said. “There are better ways to do it like they’ve done here in this district.
Still, if students are exposed to COVID-19, the district requires them to quarantine. Students are able to come back if they test negative five days after exposure.
“Here, they are very careful in determining who needs to be quarantined,” McMaster said. “That is, don’t under do it, but don’t over do it, it because that ends up in more and more disruption and more discomfort with the school district.”.
The possibility of needing to quarantine has led to increases in mask wearing and vaccinations in the school district.
“I do think that mask wearing has increased in our school, ... as they have other friends get quarantined in their class, or other positives in their class,”Camden Elementary Principal Matia Goodwin said. “I tell them you know this will help keep you safe in the classroom. We have our shields up in the classroom, too. So I know our teachers, mask wearing has increased a lot.”
Lesley Corner, the principal at Camden High School said, believe it or not, most high school students want to be in class.
“When they get sent home, they’re emailing me day three and four, (asking), ‘When can I come back. Are you sure that was less than 3 feet?’”