SCDHEC says ‘misunderstanding’ prompted state Department of Education’s plexiglass shields to be unacceptable

Confusion over plexiglass in Lancaster schools

LANCASTER COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) -South Carolina’s state health department sent guidelines for schools bringing students back to a normal schedule.

The guidance says students need to sit three feet apart with masks on and plexiglass shields between them to not be considered close contact, but what kind of shields work has led to some confusion.

Kristina Holst’s son Crosby waited for months to get back into the classroom.

Holst is confident the district can keep her son safe while he’s learning. Part of that is because of the plexiglass shields placed on the desks.

”I know he’s excited about it. I know he wants to go back,” said Holst. ”They want to be back in the classroom. If it means having plexiglass let’s do it let’s go.”

Lancaster County School board’s thought the exact same thing.

That was until district Superintendent Jonathan Phipps said the team realized the plexiglass shields from the state’s Department of Education did not meet the state’s health agency’s guidelines.

”Our numbers are so high in our schools and in our counties, I am just trying to keep everybody safe,” said Phipps.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s initial guidance said plexiglass shields had to be 12 inches about a sitting student’s head. The ones the state’s Department of Education sent did not measure up.

”We’re not playing the blame game we’re just trying to keep kids safe,” said Phipps.

DHEC changed its guidance approving the shields the state sent saying, “it does appear to be high enough to provide protection” despite it not going over 12 inches.

WBTV asked state epidemiologist Linda Bell about this confusion. She didn’t respond in the press conference – but the state’s media team sent an email later.

They called it a miscommunication for why DHEC did not initially accept the Department of Education’s plexiglass.

A quote from them said, “at one point, there was a miscommunication from DHEC, for which we apologize, that indicated the plexiglass would not be acceptable to prevent students from being considered close contacts, if combined with 3-6 feet of distancing and mask-wearing.”

The quote continues by saying, “the agency never said the Department of Education’s plexiglass would not work.”

DHEC says the state’s plexiglass can be used.

WBTV also asked how DHEC decided the Department of Education’s shield was acceptable.

The full statement says: “DHEC reviewed materials from the sales company for the plexiglass shields prior to the Department of Education purchasing them. Based on the photographs in this brochure, the plexiglass looked to be adequately high. It also appeared the shields could be pulled back closer to the student, allowing for adequate overhang on the sides. Lastly, an advantage of these shields is their portability and that they could be used by only one student throughout the day if students change classes, reducing the frequency of disinfection needed.”

WBTV also asked DHEC if it was pressured by any person or office to accept the shields.

It says no and a team was there during the time the Department of Education was purchasing the shields.

However, when the shields arrived, DHEC Interim Public Health Director Brannon Traxler says in a letter to Phipps there was “extensive discussion” about them.

”I am not totally comfortable with this because of some mixed signals we received but I am not a medical doctor and we listen to DHEC,” saidPhipps.

It is a plan Holst is on board with. ”If this is what DHEC says will work then I’m totally fine with that,” said Holst.

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