Educators worry about DHEC guidance to let teachers back in classroom after COVID exposure

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020 at 5:10 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Some South Carolina educators are worried about recent guidance from the state department of health and environmental control about exposure.

DHEC recently released information answering frequently asked questions. One of the questions was about whether or not teachers/staff could continue to work if they come in close contact to a COVID-19 case but are asymptomatic.

As a response to the question, DHEC stated:

“Teachers and school staff are considered critical infrastructure employees so they may continue to work if it is necessary to maintain school operations and staff limitations exist. The individual should assure for vigilant social distancing, monitor for symptoms and isolate if they develop symptoms. In addition, the individual should quarantine when not in the school setting. DHEC’s interim school guidance provides more information on continuing to work while in quarantine.”

Keely Hitchings is a board member for SC for ED, an education advocacy group. She says she is worried about the potential risk that comes with letting teachers back into school after exposure.

"I think it puts teachers and their families and their students and staff members in their schools in very precarious position," Hitchings said. "With the emerging information we have about people being most contagious 48 hours before the symptoms, it just seems counter-intuitive to not allow teachers the time to quarantine."

This week a branch of the U.S Department of Homeland Security added K-12 educators to a list of "critical infrastructure workers," meaning they are essential.

According to recent guidance, the CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers "may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community."

With some schools already experiencing COVID cases just weeks into reopening, Hitchings believes this may not be the right call.

"If schools are that essential how about [we] start funding them like they are essential," Hitchings said. "If they are not that essential then can we let people be safely at their homes, when they might have a respiratory virus that we don't know the long-term consequences of?"

The guidance provides recommendations that school districts could choose to follow, but districts are also able to issue their own protocols.

We have reached out to the Charleston County School District, Dorchester District 2, and Berkeley County School District to try and find out whether or not they will be following this guidance.

Charleston and Dorchester school districts say they are working on getting us that answer.

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