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Charleston Co. Schools updates COVID-19 guidelines for students, staff

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 3:01 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 4:46 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Fully vaccinated students identified as close contacts no longer need to quarantine per Charleston County School District guidelines as long as they are asymptomatic.

Students and staff over the age of 18 and identified as close contacts won’t have to quarantine either as long as they are maximally vaccinated – meaning fully vaccinated and boosted.

The changes were confirmed on Monday during a special school board meeting. Chief Operating Officer Jeff Borowy says they’ve been updating their guidance as the CDC and DHEC updated theirs. He says things are changing fast and the most recent guidance came down just hours before the meeting.

“I will tell you the last five days have been more complicated with guidance than we have had during this entire COVID-19 pandemic,” Borowy said.

Borowy says they are also rolling out a new DHEC strategy called Test to Stay. Students exposed to COVID-19 will be allowed to take a rapid test and if they test negative they will be allowed to stay in schools. They will then need to take a second test at least 24 hours later to confirm their negative status. The strategy does not require students to be vaccinated.

To accommodate the additional need for testing, Borowy says the district has opened up five additional testing sites for students and staff and is planning on opening four more next week. The new sites include:

  • Stall High School (8 a.m.-4 p.m.)
  • West Ashley High School (830 a.m.-2 p.m.)
  • East Cooper CAS (730 a.m.-3 p.m.)
  • Baptist Hill (830 a.m.-2 p.m.)
  • St. Johns High School (830 a.m.-130 p.m.)

Students who test positive will still need to isolate for a minimum of five days but can return on day six if they are asymptomatic. Symptomatic students can also return after five days as long as they don’t have a fever.

The district has also changed how it teaches students in quarantine. They will still be given daily assignments just as it has been all year, but now students K-8 will also receive a phone call or the option to have a zoom class after school with a teacher. Karolyn Belcher, CCSD’s chief academic officer says this gives students access to teachers, without forcing teachers to teach online and in person.

“What’s different this year is we are primarily focused on rather than having online instruction in person, we are really having in-person instruction,” Belcher said. “We are trying to make sure no children fall behind. . . We are compensating those teachers for that extra hour or two.”

For high school students, teachers are being encouraged by their principals to open a zoom link during core classes to allow quarantined students to participate from home.

Cassie Mitchell is the mother of first-grade student. She recently received a notification that someone in her son’s class tested positive for COVID-19. She says the policies have been unclear since the beginning of the new year.

“I’m not so much concerned about the kids being remote for that period of time as much as I’m concerned with the transparency of what’s going on in the schools,” Mitchell said. “I can appreciate this is a very chaotic time and reporting the statistics takes time. But as a parent, it doesn’t really allow me to make an informed decision about, maybe I want to keep my son home because our school is rising in cases or maybe I don’t want to send him to his after-school program where there are infants who are far more susceptible and could have dire consequences.”

She also has some concerns about allowing close contacts and asymptomatic people to stay in the classroom. This concern was echoed by several school board members who quested the accuracy of the rapid test.

“Vaccinations seem to be helping with this new variant and lessening the symptoms but it’s not a foolproof solution. Vaccinated people are still getting sick,” Mitchell said, speaking hypothetically. “I want my kid to stay in school. I want school to be open. But I have to appreciate that when he goes into the classroom, he could be exposing 19 other kids in his class.”

Her son did test negative on Monday. She says she agrees with the district’s goal of keeping students in the classroom as much as possible, as safely as possible.

“I think it’s a lot for them emotionally,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to both address their school needs in terms of learning and keeping on track with the school, but also their emotional needs and their emotional growth.”

The district says they are still trying to update all of the new guidance on their website. However, students and parents should be receiving the most up to date guidance from their schools directly if they’re impacted by COVID-19

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