South Carolina Editorial Summary: Saturday, January 22, 2022
Post and courier
Parents and School Boards Must Help DHEC Keep SC Schools Open
We know that children need to be in the classroom: for their education, for their emotional well-being, for their physical safety and, yes, for the sake of the parents who would otherwise have to stay home with them – loser perhaps their employment as a result – and the companies that would face additional strains with the absences of these parents.
And yet, we don’t all seem to agree at the same time to do what it takes to keep them in school.
At first the problem was on the left as many teachers and school boards were unwilling to acknowledge the growing evidence that we could safely get children back into the classroom as long as they were masked and distant. As a result, too many South Carolina school districts kept children away from classrooms for months, in some cases nearly a year, after Governor Henry McMaster closed all of our schools for what we all thought was a brief hiatus as COVID-19 first spread across the state.
Then the vaccines arrived and the teachers lined up to get vaccinated. The virus has started to recede, and districts have planned to keep children in class despite efforts by the Legislative Assembly to prevent them from using one of the most effective tools – mask requirements – to limit the spread in class.
But then the delta variant, and now the omicron, sent ever higher infections and quarantines and forced entire classrooms, schools and districts to retreat to online learning, if it’s the case.
As Libby Stanford of the Post and Courier reports, 32,000 SC students had to be quarantined in the first week of this year alone after infection or exposure to the virus. And the number of sick or quarantined teachers had already forced 12 SC school districts to move to temporary virtual classrooms by Friday, along with many other schools and individual classrooms. Other districts followed this week. In schools that remained open, classrooms were combined and some used cafeteria staff and guards just to keep an adult body warm in the room. Babysitting, basically.
Through it all, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control has been working overtime to find ways to make it safe to keep classrooms open, sifting through the latest research as our understanding of the evolution of the virus was shifting and spinning.
In October, when delta brought us the first wave of quarantine-catalyzed shutdowns, the agency announced that students who were within one meter of an infected student for 15 minutes or more during a day did not have to quarantine if they did. do not develop symptoms – assuming they were wearing masks. The deviation from CDC recommendations for quarantines of up to 14 days unless both children were masked was based on early real-world data and the hope of encouraging more children to wear masks. masks.
In December, DHEC approved the test-to-stay option that allows more students and teachers to stay in class after exposure to the virus as long as they don’t develop symptoms, although that was almost impossible to implement so far, as schools, like the rest of us, struggle to get their hands on enough tests to meet demand.
Then early Sunday morning, the agency acted on new guidelines allowing most-at-risk teachers to stay in class “when the school is in a staffing crisis.” Now all teachers at these schools who are exposed to the virus but show no symptoms can continue to work, provided they wear a mask and test negative on the fifth day after exposure. Normally, these exemptions only apply to fully vaccinated and boosted teachers.
This change, the agency said, was designed specifically to “enable more schools to continue providing in-person instruction to students when they otherwise could not maintain operations due to staff shortages and would have to close”.
Yes, we know that COVID-19 is not deadly or even dangerous for the vast majority of children. And we know that children and their vulnerable parents and grandparents have the opportunity – and, we would say, the responsibility – to get vaccinated to protect themselves from the infections of others. But we also know that schools have no choice but to send children home when so many teachers are sick or quarantined and so few people are willing to serve as substitutes when transmissions are so high and the workload is so intense.
It’s time for parents and school officials to meet the DHEC halfway. They must ensure that as long as the spread in the community remains at record levels, students and staff do the one thing we know they can do to reduce the spread in the classroom: wear masks at school. .
It shouldn’t require any warrants, especially since in many cases the parents who refuse to let their children wear masks are the very people who have been most insistent on demanding that schools remain open. But since this is the case, school boards need to step up and adopt these requirements. Now.
They don’t have to keep them in place forever, but they do have to keep them in place as long as our spread of COVID-19 is so high that it forces students to return to virtual classes. It was a poor substitute for in-person learning, even when we thought we had no choice. Now that we know better, this is absolutely unacceptable.
Times and Democrat
Lifeline is important for students
Governor Henry McMaster signed into law the Student ID Suicide Prevention Act in 2021. It requires public schools serving seventh through 12th grade and public and private higher education institutions to provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and an additional crisis resource of their choice on student ID cards. issued by the school.
“This law not only provides our students with easy access to a vital resource, but it will also serve as a daily reminder that they are not alone,” McMaster said. “Through the work of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health and many others, South Carolina has developed a statewide infrastructure to support those in need. We must continue to fight to end the stigma around mental health issues and ensure that all South Carolinas know how to seek help.”
The passage of the legislation came amid research that shows the suicide rate among 10 to 24 year olds rose nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018. The increase occurred in most states, 42 having seen significant increases, according to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
Connecting with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an important part of the legislation. Lifeline provides free, confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States. Lifeline is made up of a national network of more than 180 local crisis centers, combining personalized local care and resources with national standards and best practices. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255.
Access to Lifeline in South Carolina was in jeopardy until the South Carolina Department of Education partnered with Mental Health America of Greenville County.
In 2019, through a two-year capacity building grant provided by Vibrant Emotional Health and in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, MHAGC began serving the entire state of South Carolina with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The grant ended in September 2021, but the SC Department of Education provided $250,000 in bridge funding to preserve the hotline until additional grant funding is secured in 2022.
Funding to keep Lifeline active is money well spent. Consider the numbers. As of October 2021, young people aged 7 to 19 had made a total of 2,891 calls, texts and other messages to the helpline, making 2021 the year with the highest call volumes for the group of age. The two main issues were suicide and family relationships.
SC’s Superintendent of Education is correct: “Our students have and continue to face unprecedented challenges in their school and family lives. We encourage all students who are struggling to cope with loss and adversity to reach out and ask for help. This funding will ensure that he remains active now and in the future, providing students with a way to get the services they need to succeed in life and at school.