COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Wednesday, many school districts in the Midlands welcomed students back for the new school year, including Richland One and Two. Both districts are beginning the new year with a mask mandate in place in compliance with new mask ordinances passed by the City of Columbia and Richland County.
Richland County Council voted and passed an ordinance that requires masks at all elementary and middle schools in the county. This affects Richland One, Richland Two, and parts of Lexington-Richland Five.
Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said the ordinance is a great way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
"We know that masks are important to mitigate that spread and help certainly those who have been vaccinated and those who have not, as the delta variant has impacted more and more young people," Dr. Witherspoon said.
The superintendent spent the first day of school visiting students in the district.
"We’re excited that this is the first day of school," Dr. Witherspoon said. "Welcoming our students back and some of our students, if you recall from last year, this may be even though they’re going into kindergarten of first grade, may be their first time in the building. So it’s an exciting time."
Schools in the district are continuing to practice social distancing and using plexiglass to prevent the spread of the virus. LaQuana Alridge, Principal of A.C. Moore Elementary School, said they are more prepared to operate during the pandemic this year.
"Well, the good thing is you’re doing it for a second time so you feel a little bit more prepared than you did last year," Alridge said. "We have a great district, we have a great school, so we have a lot of mitigation strategies in place."
Alridge said the mask ordinance is an added bonus to their health and safety mitigation plans for this school year.
"Students are wearing their masks," Alridge said. "We’ve already had our plexiglass shields in place for students. We have our hand sanitizing stations that have not gone away. We are still encouraging that frequent hand washing of course, and so that’s helping quite a bit with everything—cleaning equipment and we're not sharing supplies. So we already had our list of things that we were going to continue to do. Once that mask ordinance happened, that just added that leg up back in but we were ready. We were ready."
During lunch, students will also be social distancing at tables and plexiglass is in place to prevent the spread of any germs when students take their mask off. A.C. Moore also has an isolation room for students who show signs or symptoms of the virus.
Any student that does leave and quarantines, the district does have a method for students to still learn while out of school.
"We have an amazing school nurse who reaches out to parents right away, and then our parents would reach out to their teacher so we can ensure that the kids aren’t missing as much work and instruction," Alridge said. "That dual modality piece that we had last year, is not there at the elementary level. But we’re going to make sure our kids don’t fall through the cracks. And get what they need, so we are excited to offer the opportunity."