CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District is preparing to reopen its classrooms this fall, so workers are now implementing millions of dollars worth of safety measures before any teachers or students walk through the door.
The district is the second largest in the state and serves more than 50,000 students in over 80 schools.
In total, the safety measures being taken for next year have a price tag of almost $6 million. Half of that amount is going towards purchasing and installing plexiglass in classrooms.
School district Chief Operating Officer Jeff Borowy said they’ve ordered 15,000 sheets of it, costing almost $2 million.
“It’s a lot of plexiglass, but it is indeed a gamechanger for us,” Borowy said. “That allows us to bring more children into the classroom and bring them closer to what they normally have.”
Borowy said plexiglass barriers increase capacity by 40 percent. With it installed, he said many elementary school classrooms could fit 24 students safely, and with desks spread out in high schools, they could fit up to 17 safely.
Many of the elementary school classrooms are divided into “pods.” This is where four desks are brought together and all separated by pieces of plexiglass.
“You want to find a way you use it most efficiently and effectively,” Borowy said. “You install it in a way that it provides protection as necessary, and also we’ve got to make it kid-proof. We’re still in schools. We’ve got to make sure it’s safe for children and also its durable.”
The school district is also looking to spend more than $1.5 million on additional fogging machines and disinfectant, fresh air equipment repairs and replacements, and bus disinfection.
“It is a great example of how much safety costs. We’re looking at disinfecting buses twice a day,” Borowy said. “$3.50 a bus, and we’re doing each bus twice a day, so there’s $7. We have 400 buses. Multiple seven by 400 times 180 days a year gets you to $506,000 plus.”
Another $200,000 is set to be used to hire a full-time nurse for every school. Right now, all schools have a nurse but some are only in the building part of the day.
More than $16,000 will be set aside for nurse liaison hours that will be focused on contact tracing. Five district nurses volunteered with the state’s department of health in the Spring and are now dedicated to contact tracing for the school district once the buildings reopen.
“If we have a case in the district, we can do the contact tracing ourselves. DHEC is allowing us to do that,” Borowy said. “If we’re notified by the individual or by the principal that somebody is positive, they immediately step into action and do that contact tracing, so we can minimize the amount of people affected by that case.”
Funding for the safety measures hasn’t been finalized yet, but it could come from the CARES Act and/or the district’s budget. The school board is meeting on Monday to look at this along with other parts of the district’s reopening plans.
“I would not feel comfortable in recommending children back to school if I wouldn’t recommend my own,” Borowy said. “That’s really my message to parents. Listen to what we have to say. We wouldn’t offer it if we didn’t believe it was safe.”