Richland County school districts begin year with hundreds of students positive or quarantining

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 10:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - School has begun, but hundreds of Richland County’s students aren’t in class.

Self-reported data from Richland 1, Richland 2, and Lexington Richland 5 school districts show students are quarantined from COVID-19 just days into the new school year.

All three districts began school on Aug. 18.

Richland 2 is the largest district with more than 27,000 students. It reports from Aug. 17-19, it reports 104 positive cases and 191 close contacts. Those numbers reflect both student and staff cases.

Richland 1 is the second largest district, with 22,236 students. It reports as of Aug. 20, 14 positive student cases and 82 students actively quarantining.

10 staff are positive, and another 12 are quarantining.

Lexington Richland 5 is the smallest district with just under 17,000 students.

As of Aug. 20, it’s reporting 96 students positive and 320 quarantining.

12 staffers are positive and 20 are quarantined.

Richland 1 Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said it’s too early in the year to compare districts, but did point to the district’s mask mandate as a helpful mitigation tool.

The district is requiring all students and staff to wear masks in spite of a temporary state law prohibiting schools from using state funds to enforce a mandate.

“The numbers that we’re looking at, we would like to think certainly our masking and our other mitigating strategies are helping to keep those numbers where they are,” he said.

Lexington Richland 5 is defying a Richland County ordinance requiring masks for middle, elementary and pre-k schools. The district argued the state law supersedes the ordinance.

RELATED STORY | Richland Co. Council passes mask ordinance for Pre-K, elementary and middle schools

Interim Superintendent Dr. Akil Ross implemented a tiered approach to COVID-19 mitigation in schools, based in part off data. However, he said there are intangibles at play when it comes to student safety.

“I’m factoring a lot of things, I talked to my team this morning. I don’t think emotionally I could handle a child in the hospital, and that’s not a data piece, right? That’s a parent piece. That’s a father piece,” he said.

The percentage of child COVID-19 cases has climbed nationally, while hospitalizations and deaths have remained low.

The district unveiled a new COVID-19 data dashboard on Monday, which highlights the impact of the virus on separate schools.

Elementary schools are the most impacted as a percent of their populations, with Chapin Elementary standing at 9 percent of its population out.

“Our job is to make sure that it does not spread, and we’re taking those best practices, based on the data to make sure that we train our principals, and continue to train our staff,” he said.

Ross said Richland County Fire Marshals have informed the district it’s in violation of the ordinance, but any fines remain to be seen.

South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East is calling for the temporary law to be removed, and for concerned parents to be more vocal in local government meetings.

“We once again are the pawns in this big political game of getting reelected, because really it hurts children, it hurts learning, and it’s ridiculous,” she said.

DHEC is updating its data on school districts twice weekly and reported 473 cumulative cases connected to students and staff statewide as of Aug. 18

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