Aiken County school board holds COVID meeting after deaths

Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 11:29 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2021 at 10:52 AM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Aiken County school board called a special meeting Tuesday as the district deals with the loss of two students and one staff member who recently died.

The board began its meeting with a moment of silence for those who have passed.

The district is mourning the loss of students who recently passed from COVID: Emily Brosnahan from Aiken High School and Ethan Blue from North Augusta Elementary School.

District leaders are also mourning the loss of staff member Gisele Morlan, who was a secretary bookkeeper at Aiken Elementary.

The moment of silence also acknowledged district employees who have lost family members recently. Staff members Candace Beasley at Clearwater Elementary and Angela Dicks, a special education aide at Aiken Elementary, lost their husbands.

The Aiken County Coroner’s Office confirmed Tuesday that the students died last week both from COVID-19.

Brosnahan, 15, passed from COVID on Sept. 1. Her family is looking for support as they mourn the loss of their young daughter. Emily was, “Blind, wheelchair-bound, non-verbal, and suffered from seizures, you never saw her without a smile on her face,” they said. To donate to her family, visit their GoFundMe page.

Emily Brosnahan
Emily Brosnahan(WRDW)

Blue was a fourth-grade student at North Augusta Elementary School who enjoyed the outdoors, cutting grass and fixing things. His funeral will be held on Saturday at Barr-Price Funeral Home Historic B-L Chapel. To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Ethan T. Blue, visit their Tribute Store.

Ethan Blue
Ethan Blue(WRDW)

Gisele Workman Morlan, a secretary bookkeeper at Aiken Elementary School, died Aug. 31. She was described by her Aiken Elementary family: “She found her purpose in service to others, and we were blessed each day by her presence. She constantly lifted our spirits with her giggles, cheerleader kicks, and sense of humor.” To plant a tree in her memory, visit her Tribute Store.


At the meeting, an audience member yelled: ”Make masks mandatory! Make masks mandatory!”

The cries come as 22 percent of all Aiken County students are quarantining, which is up 5 percent from last week. It’s a different picture for schools with mask requirements. In Richmond County, 3 percent of students were quarantining as of Aug. 27.

There is still no mask mandate because South Carolina state law bans districts from requiring face coverings. District leaders feel like their hands are tied.

“It’s infuriating,” said parent Angela Briatico.

Since Briatico found out about an Aiken County student dying on Friday, she doesn’t feel comfortable sending her unvaccinated 11-year-old to school anymore.

“We do not feel that the school is capable of protecting him,” she said.

Aiken County Superintendent King Laurence said: “We can’t require it, but we can strongly encourage it, and we’re gonna continue to do that.”

He called masks “an excellent way to prevent the spread of the disease.”

“I also have been very clear that people should be vaccinated,” said Laurence.

Briatico is not sure if she will send her child back to school yet. She wants the state Legislature to allow the school district to make its own rules, and so does the school board. Every board member signed off on a resolution to ask state lawmakers to allow district’s to make their own mask rules.

“I think we all collectively want the same thing, we want our children to be able to attend school, and to be safe,” said Briatico.

The superintendent says he expects new quarantine guidance from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control as soon as Wednesday. That would shorten the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days if a student agrees to come back to school wearing a mask.



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