ALLENDALE COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — South Carolina schools are feeling the brunt of the latest COVID wave in the state. Some districts are offering incentives for mask-wearing, COVID testing, and/or vaccinations. Allendale County Schools is one of them.
“I just love the measures that they are putting in place for our children” parent Katrina Youmans said about the mitigation strategies the district has implemented.
Youmans has two students in the district. She says she was thinking about allowing her kids to go strictly virtual but because of learning challenges last year, it wasn’t a good idea. “One of my children is special needs autistic, I was hesitant about sending them back to school this year,” she said. “I had to make a tough decision because virtual learning was not an option because I see the difference in my children compared to face-to-face learning. It’s just a tremendous difference,” she recalled.
Now parents like her can be put at ease with a new incentive by the school district to know when students may be COVID-positive by testing them each week. “We’re trying to mitigate the spread of the COVID virus and we believe that it’s going to really benefit our district,” superintendent Dr. Margaret Gillmore said.
It’s showing promise. The district reports that about 90% of their employees are fully vaccinated and about 25 or 30% of middle and high school students are fully vaccinated.
Although the district isn’t allowed to mandate masks, students whose parents opt them into the program are given a one-time incentive of five dollars. “At the elementary school, we had over 150 to 200 students who brought their consent forms back,” Dr. Gilmore said.
The incentive is even bigger for those who get the shot. Those students who are vaccinated will receive a $25 gift card. For all of my employees who vacillated, they are receiving an incentive of $300,” she added.
In August, the number of COVID-positive cases peaked in the district, Dr. Gilmore said that it was very devastating. “We lost a custodian to COVID,” she recalls “We had about 25 or 30 students and staff who tested positive for COVID, which meant that we had to go virtual for two weeks. Our students learn best with face-to-face instruction, and we had to ensure that we put a plan in place to mitigate the spread of the virus,” she added.
Other mitigation strategies are still continuing including temperature checks, hand washing, social distancing, and plexiglass on desks. “We’re just encouraging our students to be vigilant and take this virus seriously and the community to take the virus seriously and get vaccinated,” the superintendent said.
The district is also adding air purification systems in frequently used areas of schools including classrooms, offices, restrooms, and cafeterias. The device will be mounted in the ceiling tile to safely kill airborne pathogens, or particle pollutants, in the air. They are expected to be installed within the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, recently, Aiken County Schools flirted with the idea of offering incentives to students for mask-wearing. After discussions, they decided to let the issue go.
For Youmans, it wasn’t about the money for her kids, but that was an added bonus. “With my son, I have to be extra careful. We wear masks, sanitize, and make sure we wash our hands. Being tested, that’s just an extra layer of protection and an extra, extra reassurance for me as a parent that my children are being protected,” she added.