SUMMERVILLE — As Dorchester School District 2 students prepare to return to in-person classes Sept. 16, some officials fear a repeat of high numbers going into quarantine.
"We're going to be back in the same exact situation," said DD2 board member Justin Farnsworth at a Sept. 13 meeting.
During the meeting, DD2 staff members walked board members through some of the changes they can expect when students return.
Parents will now have the option of requesting plexiglass for their child's desk. Air purifiers were installed in all classrooms and staff offices.
Other additions include deep cleanings, an altered bell schedule to help with bus delays, more kiosks in lunchrooms to help with social distancing, assigned classroom seats in rows and the removal of nonessential classroom items.
Some high school culinary students will help with work in the lunchroom, while other students will assist with media and technology concerns. The district is also offering reduced quarantine time for staff and students.
A staff member's quarantine period can now be reduced to sevens days and a student's to 10. But officials said they will have to meet specific requirements to get the reduction.
Students must be symptom free from the time of their exposure to the end of the 10-day period. With staff, a negative test result will be required.
When the DD2 school board voted to send the district into a seven-day virtual learning program on Sept. 1, staff were reporting more than 4,500 students in quarantine from being close contacts.
The purpose of the temporary program was to give district staff a chance to reset and recover from the high quarantine count. At the time, more than 250 staff members were out and nine teachers had resigned.
Amanda Santamaria, DD2's nurse coordinator, said only four staff members and around 320 students will be quarantining when schools reopen on Sept. 16.
During the board's most recent meeting, members decided to still take the position of strongly recommending the use of face coverings versus issuing a mask mandate.
Superintendent Joseph Pye said they would continue to follow state law, or, more specifically, a state budget proviso that prevents districts from using appropriated funds to create any kind of mask requirements.
"Even though it's very tempting to do otherwise," he said.
Farnsworth said he is concerned by the lack of any new masking procedures. He and Santamaria said that quarantine protocols come from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, not DD2.
Mask usage and three feet of social distancing can be an exception to a child having to quarantine.
Very few students were wearing masks in schools, Santamaria said. So there is some fear among officials that to align with DHEC quarantine protocols, the quarantine numbers might rise again.
According to DHEC, Dorchester County also still has the highest COVID incidence rate in South Carolina as of Sept. 12. Nearly 2,500 cases have been reported in the county.
"It's troubling to be able to try and figure this out," Pye said.
During the Sept. 13 meeting's executive session, the board also received legal advice regarding board member conduct.
Members of the public and media are barred from executive sessions of public meetings. However, the board's discussion followed one of its board members, Barbara Crosby, recently being charged with two counts of unlawful conduct toward a child and one count of statutory misconduct in office.
The charges were in regard to an incident during the Sept. 1 workshop meeting where Crosby allegedly left her two great-grandchildren in her running SUV for 20 minutes, according to the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office.
The initial court date for the case is on Nov. 5 in St. George.
Crosby also received a lot of attention following a statement to the media where she said "God decides who lives or dies" in relation to school COVID prevention.
Following the executive session, Chairwoman Gail Hughes spoke on behalf of her colleagues and said that no sitting board member has the authority to remove another from office. But she said Crosby's statements did not reflect the sentiment of the board.
"We will try and do our very best as a board," Hughes said.