Quarantining in Aiken County schools looks different this year

Aug. 29—Procedures for the Aiken County Public School District are different this year when it comes to students and staff quarantining because of coronavirus.

In a recent school board meeting, Superintendent King Laurence explained that students and staff will be required to quarantine for 14 days. Laurence said he cannot guarantee students will be able to social distance and Aiken County cannot require masks.

Previously, in order to end quarantine, students were required to wear masks and social distance, but those two conditions are not guaranteed to happen within the schools, Laurence said.

Aiken County has more than 1,100 of its public school students in quarantine, Laurence reported last week. A total of 147 students and 22 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 in the district's first week of school.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone who has had close contact with someone with COVID-19 — and who has been fully vaccinated and shows no symptoms of COVID-19 — does not need to stay home.

Fully vaccinated students and staff should get tested three to five days after their exposure, even if they don't have symptoms, and should wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until their test result is negative, according to the CDC.

The schools use contract tracing to prevent further spread of COVID-19. According to the school district, all teachers were asked to create a seating chart to help this process.

According to the South Carolina Department of Education, districts and schools, with the exception of virtual charters, are not permitted to offer only virtual instruction unless the district or school can no longer safely operate and provide face-to-face instruction due to staffing shortages resulting from COVID-19 or a similar infectious disease.

There is no defined standard or threshold for closing schools or classrooms, according to the SCDOE.

In the case there is a staffing shortage due to COVID-19, and the district feels it cannot safely offer face-to-face instruction, the district is permitted to move temporarily to virtual instruction. Temporary virtual instruction can only be done after the district contacts the local or regional public health office and receive that recommendation.

Once the staff is available to return, face-to-face instruction will resume immediately, according to the SCDOE.

Currently the school's tools are limited to cleaning and disinfecting, hand-washing, masks and vaccinations, and right now the board cannot require masks and vaccinations. Last week, S.C. Superintendent Molly Spearman announced that all drivers and riders on state-owned and operated buses must wear a face covering.

Inside schools, the state's Proviso 1.108, created on July 6 as a mask-mandate prohibition, states that no school districts in South Carolina, or any of its schools, may use funds to require that its students and/or employees wear a face mask at any of its education facilities.

Laurence said he is "begging everyone to do what is necessary" to ensure everyone can stay in school.