District balks at rapid test plan amid calls to add days
Rapid tests for COVID-19 that will be distributed by the state to school districts have a 98 percent accuracy rate. But officials at the Georgetown County School District are in no rush to use them, because the test’s accuracy is based on testing people with symptoms of the virus.
“If they have symptoms, I didn’t think we weren’t letting them in the building,” School Board Chairman Jim Dumm said, following a presentation this week by Ashley McCall, the district’s head nurse.
“Exactly,” McCall said.
The state has 1.55 million BinaxNOW tests. Gov. Henry McMaster authorized the Department of Health and Environmental Control to come up with guidelines for a public school testing program last week when he updated his executive order on the coronavirus.
So far, there has been no guidance, said Superintendent Keith Price. “We’ve decided to wait on it.”
The district’s preventive measures are working well and there are places in the community that provide free COVID-19 tests, McCall said.
“We have not experienced any increased positive COVID-19 cases due to in-school contacts,” she said.
Alan Walters, the district’s safety director, called the rapid tests “a solution for a problem we don’t have yet.”
The decision on the rapid testing came as the school board continues to receive calls about expanding in-person instruction. The district is continuing to use a hybrid schedule that has students in school two days a week and doing virtual learning the other three days.
The board voted 5-4 last month to stay in the hybrid mode despite a recommendation from Price to go to a four-day hybrid-plus schedule for grades K through five and for students with special needs.
“Two days at school is simply not enough,” Olivia Johnson, a junior at Waccamaw High, told the school board this week.
Johnson is the student body vice president. Her older sister is the student council president. Their brother is a fifth-grader.
She recounted all the varied experiences she had in fifth grade that her brother, Eli, is missing.
“My main concern is mental health,” Johnson said. “We were in a mental health crisis before COVID, which is evident on the Waccamaw Neck. Social isolation is the biggest threat to our students right now.”
The district is currently surveying students and parents about their preference for the second semester, which begins in January.
As of Wednesday, 3,861 selected the hybrid option and 2,641 selected the full-time virtual option. The numbers represent about two-thirds of the district enrollment.
“All of the complaints I get are about hybrid,” Board Member Pat DeLeone said. She supports the hybrid-plus model. Parents who don’t want their children in school more than two days should sign up for the virtual program, she said.
Board Member Patti Hammel suggested the hybrid instruction be revised. “There are not enough instructional times,” she said.
The district is looking at ways to do that, Price said. A group that includes district staff and parents is assessing the hybrid program.
Board Member Lynne Ford asked if there is a mental health assessment that students can receive.
There is a screening app for middle and high school students, but not for elementary grades, said Michael Cavaris, the district’s special services director. “We’re working on that,” he added.