Richland One school temporarily closed after employee tests positive for COVID-19, teachers concerned about lack of PPE

Richland One school temporarily closed after employee tests positive for COVID-19

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - WIS learned Tuesday that Richland One had to close Burton Pack Elementary School last Wednesday for cleaning after a teacher displayed symptoms of COVID-19 and has since tested positive for the virus. Hand Middle School also had to close three classrooms for cleaning last week after a teacher contracted COVID-19.

This comes as some Richland One teachers are voicing their concerns about a lack of PPE and some teachers not being allowed to work from home during virtual learning. These teachers asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs. They say when they returned to work last Monday, their schools didn't provide them with gloves, high-quality masks, sanitizer or cleaning supplies.  

Richland One School Board Member, Jonathan Milling, says some worried teachers have reached out to him. “Some of the concerns that I’m hearing from teachers and administrators within the district is when they arrived at school last week they didn’t have PPE. They didn’t have high-quality PPE. I have heard this morning they received some face shields, which is good, but I’m also hearing that we don’t have plexiglass in all of the elementary schools and some of the other schools,” said Milling.

The district office says it’s talked to principals, and they say Richland One schools have enough PPE. They explain they haven’t been made aware of any shortage. They’re encouraging teachers to ask their principals if they are in need of any specific supplies, and they say hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed in every classroom. In the meantime, Richland One says every teacher has been provided a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Last Friday, two days after Burton Pack Elementary closed for cleaning, an email was sent to all Richland One teachers stating that they would now be allowed to teach from home during virtual learning. However, approval must be granted by each school’s principal. 

Teachers from Arden Elementary, Burton-Pack Elementary, and Hyatt Park Elementary say their schools are not approving teacher’s requests to work from home. “What I want to find out from the administration is what kind of guidelines have you provided to the principals to make sure they’re making the appropriate decisions for these teachers?  I do know that conflicting emails went out a couple of weeks ago regarding teachers who had applied to participate in the all-virtual program and teachers receiving emails indicating they were approved to teach virtually, and then shortly after that, they received emails that they didn’t,” explained Milling.

A district spokesperson says they’ve talked to principals at Arden Elementary and Hyatt Park Elementary, and they told the district they haven’t had any teachers request to work from home.

These teachers also say some schools held faculty-wide meetings in-person last week, where social distancing measures weren’t followed. The district maintains that principals have held virtual meetings and followed safety protocols.

Milling says some of these concerns are expected to be addressed during Tuesday night's school board meeting. 

Richland One will start the school year next Monday, August 31st completely virtual. Every two weeks, the district and the State Department of Education will evaluate if they can safely offer an in-person option.

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