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Berkeley Co. School District addresses student quarantine concerns as hundreds test positive for COVID-19

Source: Live 5
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 3:08 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2021 at 4:26 PM EDT
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BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - As of Wednesday, more than 500 Berkeley County students and 76 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19, and dozens more were quarantined for ten days because of close contact with those cases.

Many parents shared their frustrations with the process during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

“My other son was sent home for a 10-day quarantine on the third day of school. As the schools were woefully unprepared, he spent the first two days of quarantine receiving no education at all. This week he’s able to access assignments online but is still not receiving any direction instruction from a teacher,” Berkley County parent Katie Preston told school board members. “You’re failing our children. You’re failing to even hit the ever so high standard in South Carolina of ‘minimally-adequate.’ Children are losing education.”

Berkeley County Superintendent Deon Jackson said the district will release a more thorough plan for quarantine learning protocols next week.

However, for now, the process has been challenging because not all of the district’s chrome books have been distributed.

Berkeley County School District Spokesperson Katie Tanner said more than 3,000 of the district’s chrome books are currently missing and others are still being updated and prepared for kids to use this school year.

Tanner said that’s something the district usually handles over the summer months. However, students in the district were able to keep their chrome books this past summer to help overcome any learning lost last school year.

Tanner said the district hopes to have that process completed this week.

For now, quarantine lesson plans may be different for each student depending on their grade level, teacher, and school.

“I don’t believe there’s been a huge loss of instruction,” Tanner said. “That can depend on the class and depend on the age…but any loss of instruction that has occurred, teachers are going to help make up those students. If someone is concerned about what their student is receiving, they should be reaching out to the teacher and principal, so that they can understand what classes have they really missed, what classes are they going to be able to make up, and how can we work out the in-between. So obviously, not ideal, but we are operating in a continuous pandemic.”

Berkeley County School District is not requiring masks inside their facilities, however they are strongly encouraged among students and staff when social distancing is not practical, particularly among those who are unvaccinated.

“We want to keep our schools open, and keep our students and staff safe,” Jackson said. “A recent update to quarantine guidelines state, if a student is wearing a mask and is three to six feet away from a COVID positive student also wearing a mask, then that student who is the close contact, would not have to quarantine.”

Jackson reiterated this guidance to encourage students and staff members to wear masks within district facilities.

Other parents worry their kids will be trapped in a never-ending cycle of 10-day quarantines due to close contact scenarios throughout the school year.

“This can happen multiple times,” Berkeley County parent Adam Eldridge said. “If he goes to school for another five days and gets tapped on the shoulder again and say you sat next to so and so and they tested positive, he’s got another 10 days home, with no game plan, with another two games of football he’s going to miss.”

Tanner said school district leaders are just as frustrated as parents.

“We are doing everything we can to limit exposure,” Tanner said.

That includes moving students back into their classrooms to eat lunch.

“Right now, it’s the reality of what we are having to deal with in our schools, so we are going to continue to encourage students to practice good hand washing hygiene, please create as much distance between you and others as possible,” Tanner said.

A comprehensive plan will be released that will provide learning support for students identified and confirmed as positive cases or close contacts.

Other remote learning options are very limited this school year because of state legislation and budget provisos.

“We cannot place more than five percent of our student population on a permanent, virtual platform or we will lose funding,” Tanner said.

Five percent of the district’s total population of 36,000 students would be about 1,500.

“Social distancing is what’s really going to help us, and in school with large enrollments, that’s going to be difficult. So, that’s another reason you’re seeing some challenges this year compared to last year. Last year, we didn’t have all of our students in our buildings…You’re seeing a different experience this year, compared to last year.” Tanner said.

What happens when a student is exposed to COVID-19 in Berkeley County schools?

Once it is confirmed a student has been exposed to COVID-19, the following steps should take place.

If the close contact has been fully vaccinated and is asymptomatic: A close contact does not have to quarantine, however it is recommended he/she:

  • Wear a mask for ten days from the date of exposure.
  • Socially distance to the greatest extent possible (for the same period of time).
  • If he/she remains asymptomatic, he/she is not required to have a negative Covid test to return to work, however it is recommended he/she gets one 7 days from the date of exposure to be safe.
  • If he/she becomes symptomatic, he/she needs to notify the supervisor or school administrator immediately and he/she is required to quarantine for 10 days from the date symptoms begin.
  • It is recommended that the close contact take a COVID test 7 days after the exposure regardless of vaccination status.

If he/she has been fully vaccinated, but is symptomatic:

  • He/she is required to quarantine for 10 days.
  • It is recommended that the close contact take a COVID test 7 days after the exposure regardless of vaccination status.
  • Current guidelines allow the 14 day quarantine to be shortened to 10 days. The employee/student may return to work/school on the 11th day with the signed staff or parent letter agreeing to daily temperature checks and required mask wearing from day 11 to day 14.

If he/she has NOT been fully vaccinated:

  • He/she is required to quarantine beginning 10 days from the date of exposure.
  • It is recommended that the close contact take a COVID test 7 days after the exposure regardless of vaccination status.
  • Current guidelines allow the 14 day quarantine to be shortened to 10 days. The employee/student may return to work/school on the 11th day with the signed staff or parent letter agreeing to daily temperature checks and required mask wearing from day 11 to day 14.

Anyone considered a close contact will be asked the following questions:

  • Have you been fully vaccinated? (Either the J&J, or both shots of Moderna or Pfizer) The staff member and/or the student does not have to respond to this question.
  • If yes, please provide verification of the completed vaccination card.
  • Do you currently have any Covid symptoms?

Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine

  • BCSD will follow the SC DHEC requirements when reporting positive cases and contact tracing.
  • Students exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will wait in a protective isolation area until picked up by a parent/guardian (within the hour). While in the isolation area the student will be asked to wear a mask covering nose and mouth per the SC DHEC guidelines.
  • BCSD will follow the most up to date quarantine and isolation guidelines as recommended by SC DHEC.
  • The principal and/or the school nurse will report all positive cases to the BCSD COVID-19 Dashboard/Database. The Nursing Services Coordinator will compile information from the COVID-19 Dashboard/Database and will forward to SC DHEC.
  • Students and staff will not be required to quarantine if they provide verification of vaccination.

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