Update from Superintendent Keith Price

Update from Superintendent Keith Price
Posted on 09/09/2021
Here is an important video message from Superintendent Keith Price. 

The transcript for the video follows.

Hello GCSD families,

As we have launched into the new school year, we have quickly realized that the COVID delta variant is presenting challenges unlike any we experienced with last year’s variant.  The numbers of positive cases and resulting quarantines among students and staff are much more significant this year and have impacted our abilities to operate in a more normal-like manner thus far.  As a result, we presented a lot of information and adjustments to our Safe Return to In-person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan to our School Board last night that were approved.  We wanted to bring this information to you as quickly as possible so that you will be aware of the changes.

The first significant change is to our length of quarantine period.  DHEC’s recommendation is that anyone who is identified as a close contact should be quarantined for 14 days.  They have included options to a shorter quarantine period but our decision up to this point has been to remain with the 14 day period.  After consultation with our local medical advisory panel and a presentation from DHEC officials last week, we are going to offer the shortened options moving forward since both feel that these options are safe and recommended to keep asymptomatic students in school as much as possible.  The following adjustments have been made:

A student who has been identified as a close contact may return to school after 10 days of quarantine have been completed and no symptoms have been reported during daily at home monitoring.

A student who has been identified as a close contact may return to school after 7 days of quarantine have been completed, no symptoms have been reported during daily at home monitoring, and the individual has received results of a negative antigen or PCR/molecular test that was taken no earlier than day 5 of quarantine.  At-home testing kits will not be accepted.

Any student who returns to school after the 10 or 7 day quarantine periods will be expected to wear a mask for the remainder of the 14-day period, continue to monitor for symptoms, and remain socially distanced from peers to the extent possible.  This is in alignment with DHEC guidance and will be a condition for approved return after the 7 or 10 option is utilized.

We ask that you be patient with us and do not call the school for an adjusted return date.  With nearly 1600 students in isolation and quarantine today, this will take some time for our school teams to communicate adjusted return dates while also managing new cases as they may come in.  They will be working throughout the day today and tomorrow to share this updated information with all impacted families so we ask that you please bear with us as we make these adjustments.

We also introduced a modified version of our virtual program from last year.  Unfortunately, we are unable to make this option available to everyone.  Based on a state proviso that was signed into law earlier this year, we are now limited to no more than 5% of our total student population that can be served in this manner.  There was also a concern for our youngest students who are not yet eligible for a vaccine and giving them another option.  We will be offering a Kindergarten through 6th grade virtual option beginning soon and, based on our enrollment, we will be able to offer two classes per grade level for this program.  Mrs. Genia Smith and her team have already begun efforts to communicate this option to all eligible families so be on the lookout for an application for this program if you have an interest for your kindergarten through 6th grade student.  Selections will be made in a random-choice style format.

We have received questions about when a class or school moves into a temporary virtual setting.  Based on many conversations with DHEC and State Department of Education officials, we have been encouraged to make these decisions on a class-by-class and school-by-school basis and that has been what we have done thus far.  There are two reasons that we have experienced that have resulted in us needing to move a school into a temporary virtual setting.  One has to do with staffing.  If we have too many staff members out and it prevents us from being able to operate our schools safely and effectively, we may have to move that school into a temporary virtual setting until we are able to get enough staff back in place to where we are able to operate safely and effectively.  I point out that I used the word “staff” and not “teachers.”  When we report our numbers on our dashboard, we use the same term.  This includes nurses, clerical staff, teaching assistants, bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria staff.  It is possible that a significant impact in many of these areas may present us with challenges that we are unable to overcome on short notice.

The other situation is when we have such a large number of students who are out of school in either an isolation or quarantine situation, it is best to move the entire school into a single learning environment to help ensure safety as well as to help ensure an effective learning environment.  Earlier today, DHEC released updated guidance on when a whole school should be moved into temporary virtual status.  The recommendation is to consider temporary virtual for a school if they reach 30% of their student body being out due to a combination of positive isolations or close contact quarantines.  This is consistent with what we have been doing up to this point.

I want to thank everyone for tuning into the message and bearing with us as we have needed to pivot our plan due to the challenges before us.  We will continue to keep everyone updated as any shifts in the operating plan need to be made moving forward.  Thank you!

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