AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — According to new data released by the Aiken County Public School District, 5,048 students are in quarantine. One hundred staff members are quarantined, as well.
On Tuesday, September 7, the Aiken County school board took up the issue of quarantines and COVID-19 in the district in a special called meeting. “Schools truthfully with over 4,000 students quarantined not to mention teachers and staff, sadly, there is not much learning going on,” one board member said.
NewsChannel 6 also learned the total number of COVID deaths within the district is 3 — including two students, Ethan Blue and Emily Brosnahan, and 1 staff member, Gisele Morlan.
School leaders are working to figure out what to do about the high numbers of quarantines in the district. Two board members even pleaded with the group and families to make masks mandatory. “I understand the law, I understand its implications, but this is a health issue. This is a life issue, or go virtual for a specified amount of time,” she said.
If current guidelines are followed, Superintendent King Laurence says that quarantines could come down rather quickly. “If we say, we’re not requiring you to wear a mask, you can stay out of school for the whole 14 days. But if you wear a mask, you can come back on day 11 and do your best to distance the three or six feet, whatever the case may be,” Laurence said.
The idea of offering an incentive to those who wear masks was also thrown around. “[A woman’s] first-grader, who she added really makes wear a mask all the time, was literally in tears asking, “but mommy I’ve worn my mask. Why do I have to go home,” a board member recalled. “So it’s no reward for her to wear the mask compared to her classmates who are not wearing it. So I don’t think it has to be monetary. Just anything we can suggest in separating the students as a simple start,” she added.
Laurence said that generally speaking if you’re vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine. “That means I keep students in school, that means I keep teachers and other staff members in school. Unless you’re vaccinated, you’re so much less likely to contract the disease and get sick and people who aren’t vaccinated,” he added. “I don’t want folks to be sick, but obviously also want students in school. I want teachers and staff in school. So it’s very important to me that people do everything that they can to ensure their own safety and ensure the safety of them,” he said.
Last school year, a threshold of three percent of a school’s population was in effect before making any changes to learning. Right now, no percentage is set but some guidance is expected later this week from the state’s health agency, DHEC. “Hopefully they’ll give us some information on where the thresholds are for considering taking a school remote or whether or not you should quarantine just a class or a whole school,” Laurence added.
Should schools be taken to a virtual model, there are different scenarios that could be in play.
There have been calls to mandate masks, a state proviso is limiting that option. Some board members think contacting the state legislators would be an option that should be available — including meeting with them and/or writing letters, chairman Dr. John shared with board members.
Meanwhile, two students who died in the Aiken County School District due to COVID, a 15-year-old and a 9-year-old, both died on September 1.