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1,500 L1 students quarantining to begin the year

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 7:29 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, S.C. (WIS) - COVID-19 is taking a toll on the Lexington School District One community.

The district self-reports the number of students and staff who test positive or are kept home due to symptoms or exposure.

As of Aug. 23, the district is reporting 1,341 students are excluded from school with another 246 who have tested positive.

The definition of excluded on L1′s website is:

“An individual who must stay home from school or work either because they exhibit COVID-19-like symptoms (symptomatic exclusion) or because they have had close contact with a person who tested positive (quarantined).”

There are 65 positive staff cases as of that date, with 49 staff excluded.

The district created a back-to-school plan which included expanding the nursing staff, facilitating air purification, and contact tracing.

L1 Superintendent Dr. Greg Little said no mitigation strategies will change for now, because the district has not gathered enough data to see them in practice.

“Right now, a lot of those cases and quarantines, for example, those students were already quarantined before they came to campus, or they were quarantined because of a household contact situation. That’s not necessarily reflective of what’s taking place on our campuses, so we want to sure we’ve got two weeks’ worth of data to make more sense of the numbers,” he said.

The first day of classes was Aug. 17.

He said there is no automatic threshold for changes, as each scenario is different. However, he said the district is beginning to feel the pressure of staff outages.

He attributed that issue to COVID-19 and a growing number of young children being quarantined at home. He said some staff is having to work from home to care for their families.

“I don’t know it’s a reasonable expectation to have a 7-year-old to be at home by themselves all day,” he said.

As of Aug. 23, three of the top four impacted schools in L1 are elementary schools. Deerfield Elementary School leads all schools with 111 students out of the classroom.

The school district does require masks in health rooms but does not require them on buses or on school property. District leaders cite the state budget, which prohibits school districts from enforcing a mask mandate with state funds.

It is under no local ordinance to enforce masks, unlike Richland County.

The Richland County Council passed an ordinance requiring all pre-K, elementary, and middle schools to require masks.

On Tuesday, members of the Lexington County Council deferred to county spokesperson Jessica Imbimbo.

Imbimbo told WIS she spoke on behalf of County Administrator Lynn Sturkie and the council. She said the school districts are autonomous entities and the decision to implement masks lies with them.

Governor Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson have opposed local mandates, citing the state budget which prohibits districts from using state funds to enforce mask mandates for a year.

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L1 School Board Chair Anne Marie Green said she does not foresee the district implementing a mask mandate because of the state budget.

“It is very frustrating to be in a position of protecting our students and our staff, 27,000 students are in our care and custody for most of each day, and to not have any tools available to us to do what the experts have recommended would help us control this. That’s very frustrating,” she said.

Little said he expects the board would have a conversation about the issue if the budget rule were overturned in court.

Richland School District 2 has asked the State Supreme Court for an injunction on the rule until a decision can be made on its constitutionality.

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