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Lancaster County has 1,000+ students and staff on COVID quarantine protocols, superintendent responds

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 5:45 PM EDT
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LANCASTER, S.C. (WBTV) - The number of students and staff on quarantine in Lancaster County is 1,110 students and staff after just one week of school.

The district also has almost 140 people who have tested positive for COVID already. Students make up the majority of the 1,100 quarantined people within the district. It says most of them are from elementary school.

On Thursday, August 12, a 16-year-old from Andrew Jackson High School died from COVID-19. Just days later, students returned to class Monday, August 16. That same day, WBTV News reported a COVID outbreak on the Lancaster High Football team.

Lancaster County Schools says they are trying to be extra careful to follow the DHEC school guidance put out early this summer. One thing that’s been challenging though is the social distancing.

Superintendent Jonathan Phipps told WBTV some of the classrooms, especially in the elementary schools, are just not designed to allow even three feet of social distancing.

So when one person in a class tests positive, many are being considered a close contact or being within three feet of each other for more than 15 minutes. The close contact definition has caused entire classrooms to go into quarantine.

”I know that it’s been hard on parents and we don’t want to do that. But at the same time you have to balance that out and we just want to make sure again we’re doing that right thing,” says Phipps.

Phipps wants them to know the district is doing everything they can.

WBTV asked Phipps if, at some point, that could mean defying the mask mandate ban to keep kids safe. He says no for two reasons.

For the first, he says parents are extremely divided on the issue. If the board decided to make masks mandatory, he thinks some parents would be elated and other parents would be upset.

The other reason, he says, is because schools could potentially lose state funding if they were to make a mask mandate.

”I cried when I found out because I thought here we go again,” says Courtney Green, whose son is on COVID protocols this week.

It is a call no parent wants to get especially on the second day of school.

On the other end of Green’s line, Lancaster County Schools told her that her second-grader was close contact with a COVID positive student and had to quarantine. He will be at home until August 31.

”Really he only got that Monday because on Tuesday they just sat him in the room until parents were ready to pick them up,” she says.

Green says her kids are already facing an uphill battle since they were extremely behind in school from years prior.

They became her sons because they were taken by DSS. When they got to her, she says education was not a priority for them at their previous house. Now, this two-week quarantine schedule is not helping.

”I can only tell my kids so many times if you try hard you’ll catch up because eventually, the quarantine policy in Lancaster County school district is going to put them so far behind that I can’t say try hard enough and you’ll catch up bud,” Green said.

”It was a horrible week. It was a tough week,” said Phipps.

Superintendent Phipps says after a more than bumpy first week, he only has one thing on his mind.

”What can we do different?” he questions.

Phipps told WBTV that school officials had a meeting this morning to discuss that. They discussed different seating for social distancing, more contact tracing and smaller things like one-way hallways.

”We keep looking very hard to come up with what we possibly can,” said Phipps.

The biggest complaint parents have come with is the full 14-day quarantine.

Phipps says they want students back in school but it can’t happen without people checking students for masks or symptoms.

”1,100 people quarantined and you’re gonna let a number of them come back. Who is gonna check on that because our nurses are overwhelmed at this point. A lot of them after the first week of school said I don’t think this is gonna work out for me this year they’re ready to quit and some have,” he explains. ”If it continues the way that it did the first week, we’re in trouble. We’re just trying to do our best to keep kids safe and keep the doors open.”

But for Green, the questions remain as the days on their child’s quarantine continues to tick away.

”I would really like for the board, Dr. Phipps and other schools to let me know what we are supposed to do?” she asks.

Dr. Phipps says two schools have the possibility of closing this week. Phipps says they close the schools when there is not enough staff to safely operate it. He did not say which schools.

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