FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — New guidelines from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control allows some teachers to skip quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19, a change that teacher advocacy group SC for Ed said could make a bad situation worse.
Under the new guidance, teachers are no longer required to quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure if they are asymptomatic and work at a school in a “staffing crisis situation.” Instead, they must test negative after five days and wear a mask for 10.
“Teachers have felt like we have been holding our ship together with duct tape and bubble gum,” Robin Bowman, SC for Ed’s Pee Dee area leader said. “With these new guidelines DHEC put out, it feels like they took away our duct tape.”
Bowman, a teacher for Florence 1 Schools, said she feels the new guidance is more about keeping schools open no matter what, rather than protecting students or teachers.
“It’s already so horrible with the amount of staff members that have become ill,” Bowman said. “Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, students.”
Bowman has seen teachers quit in droves since the pandemic started — thanks in part, she said, to the state government’s decisions, ranging from provisos intended to limit the amount of virtual students and prevent mask mandates, to this new guideline.
“Our educational ship has just been battered over and over again throughout this pandemic,” Bowman said. “This is unsafe. It’s not educational and it’s happening daily.”
At Thursday’s board meeting, Florence 1 Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley reported a jump in the number of staff members testing positive. There were 93 staff members and 218 students diagnosed with the virus, he said.
“That is probably the largest that we have had for staff members,” O’Malley said. “We are continuing to monitor this. We knew this week and into next week would be the largest.”
He said the previous record for positive staff members was 28.
Bowman has heard from teachers across the region and state who have serious concerns about the guidance.
“We’re all doing the best we can and we love our students, but there is a line,” Bowman said. “We are begging for some help, and anything would help right now.”
Bowman said she is aware of times that Florence 1 Schools administrative employees have had to step in and help when understaffed, but she is even more worried about districts with fewer resources.
WBTW News reached out to Florence 1 Schools to see if leadership considers the district to be in a staffing crisis situation, and is awaiting a response.