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Charleston school district changes COVID-19 notification protocol after parents' outcry

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The Charleston County School District has altered its COVID-19 notification protocol for elementary school students. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

In the wake of parent and community outcry, the Charleston County School District is changing the way it alerts families of coronavirus cases in the classroom. 

The new protocol comes after more than 800 people signed an online petition last week calling on district officials to update its COVID-19 notification policy. 

Under the district's previous protocol, parents only received a notification about a COVID-19 case if their child was deemed to be a "close contact" of a coronavirus-positive individual. As defined by the state health agency, this includes anyone who has been within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or longer.

But starting Tuesday, all CCSD parents of early childhood, primary school or elementary grade students will be informed by email if their child shared a classroom with a COVID-19 positive person.

Middle and high schoolers will not receive this so-called "classroom notification." Students in those grades will only be notified if they're determined to be a close contact. 

Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait told board members Monday that district officials were looking into the possibility of updating the policy after receiving an outpouring of feedback from parents about the existing measures. 

"This is another way that parents and guardians can feel safe about sending their kids to school," said district spokesman Andy Pruitt said. "We wanted to provide that opportunity." 

Families were alerted of the updated notification protocol Friday night.  

For North Charleston parent Toni Reale, it was welcome news. 

Reale and several other parents at Malcolm C. Hursey Montessori School helped organize the petition after five students in their children's classes tested positive for the virus. 

At least four of those children were asymptomatic, Reale said, and several families who later tested positive received no notification from the district about the situation. 

"I want to thank the superintendent and the board members and all of the parents who signed onto the petition," Reale said. "I appreciate that we’re making progress on this to protect the health and safety of our students teachers and the staff."

Still, she said, there's more work that needs to be done.

"There’s one major problem with this: The definition of close contact is just not reality," Reale said.

The incident at Hursey is evidence students are still spreading the virus to each other, she said, especially young elementary schoolers who have a hard time maintaining 6 feet of social distance and keeping their masks on. Reale also feels that middle and high school students should also be included as "classroom contacts."

The district has previously cited the numerous class changes that middle and high schoolers engage in throughout the day as its reasoning to why they were not being considered for the policy update. 

To learn more about CCSD's new notification policy and see how many cases have been reported, go to ccsdschools.com/COVID-notification.

Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif.

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