ROCK HILL, S.C. — The Rock Hill School Board met on Monday night and revised several policies aimed at mitigating COVID-19 issues in schools. The district voted to:
- Add a COVID-19 call center
- Reduce quarantine times
- Reinstate a policy that teachers out sick with COVID-19 will get paid
- Revise policies to allow field trips within York County in some cases
- Permit volunteers to return to schools if they wear masks and follow certain guidelines
While some parents and educators spoke in favor of a mask mandate in the district, requiring masks was not on the board’s agenda and was not considered by the board on Monday night.
The board amended the policies following a school board meeting it held on Sept. 3 where, among other concerns, school nurses spoke up about being overwhelmed and overworked.
Nurses described working 10-hour days and a grueling workload made of up COVID-19 testing, quarantine and isolation procedures, and answering phone calls and emails from parents.
“One of our nurses reported 265 missed phone calls on her answering machine in one day,” Rock Hill school nurse Diane Graebner said at the school board meeting on Sept. 3.
On Tuesday, the school board voted to open a temporary call center in the building where the district’s former Belleview Elementary school used to be.
Rock Hill School Board Chair Helena Miller said around five employees will be contracted through an outside staffing company and trained over the next few weeks to answer COVID-19 related questions from parents, as well as track COVID-19 tests submitted to the district.
The new call center is expected to launch in two weeks.
“[It’ll be] a place where parents and the community can reach out and get answers to some of the COVID-19 questions they might have,” Miller said. “But also to make sure that some of the work is taken off what the [school] nurses do in local buildings.”
Miller said the district would also contract with the outside staffing company to bring in additional school nurses to the district. Currently, 24 school nurses serve about 17,000 students in the Rock Hill School District.
On Monday night, the Rock Hill School Board also voted to reduce quarantine times.
Starting Tuesday, Sept. 14, if students or staff are not showing symptoms, they can return to school after 10 days of quarantine, if they wear a mask until they reach the 14th day.
In two weeks, the district will allow students and staff members to return to school after just seven days in quarantine if they show a negative COVID-19 test and wear a mask until they reach the 14th day.
The decision came after several people spoke at the board meeting, saying students who are healthy are missing too many days of school under current quarantine rules.
“Our children cannot stay out of school those number of days,” Norma Gray, President of the NAACP’s Rock Hill chapter, said. “I am afraid for the state of African American children who remain out of school because of this communication, that they are going to be grossly affected.”
Gray has spoken at prior board meetings in favor of a district-wide mask mandate.
Another parent who attended the board meeting said she has concerns about shorter quarantine periods.
“I will tell you from a healthcare professional perspective that I’ve seen patients be positive as late as 10 days,” the parent told the school board members.
The board also voted to reinstate paid COVID-19 sick days for teachers. The district had that policy earlier in the pandemic and voted to bring it back on Monday night.
Additionally, the Rock Hill School Board said schools can once again submit requests for field trips, but only within York County.
Lindsay Machak with the Rock Hill School District says the district met with principals and learned that several programs were affected when all field trips were canceled.
This included field study for exceptional students learning life and job skills, as well as swim lessons that all third graders get in the Rock Hill School district at the district’s applied technology center.
“Through those conversations, we found that we have many children who have individualized educational plans and that we want to be accommodating to those plans,” Machak said.
The board also voted to allow volunteers to return to schools if they follow certain guidelines, like wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and washing hands when they enter the building.
The school board said South Carolina’s law against masks in schools only mentions staff and students, not volunteers.
Machak says programs like Back the Pack, which gives students free food to take home, are important to the district but can’t get done without the help of volunteers.