- Orangeburg County School District
Students Choose Masks: 17 Students & 11 Employees COVID-19 Positive; 408 in Quarantine
Monday, August 16, students returned to school in Orangeburg County with the majority of students and staff heeding public health recommendation to wear a mask while indoors, unless vaccinated (even those vaccinated are currently being encouraged to wear a mask while indoors and not able to be physically distanced).
As Orangeburg County School District’s Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster visited 12 schools on Monday to welcome everyone back, he was proud so many parents, guardians and students made the wise decision to wear masks. While legislation prevents South Carolina public schools from requiring students or employees to wear masks inside of the buildings, the majority of the District’s students are electing to wear them.
“At one of the first schools I visited, I noticed that only one student in the whole school wasn’t wearing a mask,” said Dr. Foster. “In many of our schools, all staff and students are electing to wear a mask. While we currently are not able to require masks, it is strongly encouraged to help keep potential exposures down, especially during this major spike in COVID-19 cases around the state and nation. I am proud of these individuals for taking the extra safety precaution to keep themselves and others around them safe.”
OCSD schools with students and staff all electing to wear masks include the following: Brookdale Elementary, Elloree Elementary, Howard Middle, Hunter-Kinard-Kinard Tyler Elementary, HKT Middle/High, Marshall Elementary, Mellichamp Elementary, OCSD Alternative Program, Rivelon Elementary, Sheridan Elementary, St. James-Gaillard Elementary, and Vance Providence Elementary. There are also multiple schools with less than five students not wearing a mask. These schools include, Bethune-Bowman Elementary, Bethune-Bowman Middle/High, Holly Hill Elementary, Holly Hill-Roberts Middle, Lake Marion High and Technology Center, Sheridan Elementary, The Technology Center, and Whittaker Elementary.
Proviso 1.108 also known as the Mask Mandate Prohibition was adopted on June 25, 2021, by South Carolina’s General Assembly as part of the 2021-22 Appropriations Bill. The Proviso reads: No school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities. This prohibition extends to the announcement or enforcement of any such policy. Therefore, masks cannot be required.
Legislative actions, such as the Face Mask Mandate Prohibition (Proviso 1.108), as well as S.704, which requires schools to offer five days of in-person instruction; and Proviso 1.103, which limits the number of students who may participate in virtual learning to no more than 5% of the district’s total student population (by withholding 47.22% of funding for every student enrolled in a virtual format beyond the allowable 5%), have made planning a safe return to school difficult.
Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has presented very challenging circumstances for school districts, students and families throughout the state and nation, particularly with the new Delta variant. OCSD recognizes the growing concerns of parents and guardians within the community as we begin this new school year. While in South Carolina, legislation has limited the ability to require public health-recommended prevention measures such as mask wearing, OCSD’s plan is to honor our commitment to health and safety to the fullest extent practical for teaching and learning and as allowable under the law.
Since the Proviso 1.108 has been in place, the vaccine has given many employees, students, and families more peace of mind about in-person learning, and we continue to encourage all who are eligible for the vaccine to strongly consider becoming vaccinated. The use of face coverings by all students and staff within school facilities remains a strong recommendation of state and federal public health officials, as well as frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, and extensive disinfecting and sanitizing.
State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman has pleaded with parents to help keep South Carolina schools safe.
“We’re better than this. We’re smarter than this. Parents, please listen to your doctors,” Spearman commented in an August 17 press conference, held jointly with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the State Epidemiologist. “Send your child to school with a mask on. Not just for their protection, but for the community of children that they are in the classroom with.”
Proviso 1.108 covers educational facilities, which does not extend to school buses. OCSD has chosen to mandate face coverings while on the bus. Face coverings are also required for any visitors in the building and in healthcare areas of school facilities by all students and staff.
OCSD wants all parents to be assured that the district will remain committed to maintaining health and safety for students and staff, while continuing to provide high-quality instructional offerings unique to the students and families that we serve. OCSD is taking as many safety precautions as possible while also urging all students, staff, and parents to do the same.
School nurses and administrators are tracking cases and close contacts and communicating those numbers to District leaders. Since school reopened Monday, the number of positive student cases are 17 (August 16-August 20, 2021). The schools and nurses review each case and continue to follow the contact tracing guidelines. Anyone who could be considered as a “close contact,” meaning an individual within current close proximity guidelines of the individual diagnosed with COVID-19 for fifteen minutes or more must quarantine for 14 days after last contact. Our District total of students in quarantine is currently 374. There are a total of 34 staff members currently in quarantine with 11 positive coronavirus cases and 23 identified as close contacts.
(Chart below includes Student COVID-19 Positive Cases and Quarantines by School.)