What do new COVID guidelines mean for Aiken County schools?

(Lynne Sladky | AP)
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 7:48 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - School leaders in Aiken County are sorting through new state guidelines about when to close down schools for COVID.

The guidelines come right after the district’s latest COVID-19 report showing more than 5,000 students in quarantine. That’s at least 1,000 more students than reported last week.

One thing the school district can’t do is mandate masks because state law won’t allow it.


This week, South Aiken High reports 40 COVID positive students and more than 580 students at home in quarantine. At Midland Valley High, there are 41 positive students with more than 500 students in quarantine. At Aiken High, 21 COVID positive students with more than 760 students are in quarantine. That’s more than half of Aiken High’s student population.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s new guidelines say having 30 percent or more absences because of cases and quarantines is a reason for a school to close down.

Aiken County has three schools at more than 50 percent.

Here’s a full list of the options DHEC is recommending for that threshold for when schools should switch to virtual learning:

  • If the school can’t continue with its current staffing.
  • If there is 30% or more absences because of cases and quarantines.
  • If positive case rates are 5% or more.
  • Based on guidance from local health officials.

Aiken County Superintendent King Laurence said Tuesday night that four schools are knocking on the door of remote learning.

We talked to an Aiken County Board of Education member Wednesday who says they simply need more control over what happens in their schools.

The number of empty desks in Aiken County schools continues to rise, and so do frustration levels with parents and school officials.

“We have a lot of kids out for quarantine and parents are rightfully upset about the inadequate education that’s going on while they’re at home,” said Cameron Nuessle, school board trustee.

Nuessle says Aiken County needs to be the one responsible for the decision to make masks mandatory.

“We’ve got boots on the ground and closest to the situation and closest to people representing the local area and know what’s going on,” he said.


Currently, the Aiken County district has three schools with more than 50 percent in quarantine.

“Nobody’s hands are tied in the sense that nobody should be sitting on their hands saying, ‘Well it’s me. I can’t do anything,’ but we still have a voice and we can still advocate for what we want to see,” he said.

They hope to see more people masked up and vaccinated in school. To compare, Aiken County has about 23,000 students with 350 positive cases and more than 5,000 students in quarantine. Richmond and Columbia Counties have a mask mandate and are seeing fewer students in quarantine.

“It’s the right thing to do because healthy kids need to be in school if there’s not a significant risk and we need to do everything we can within those guidelines to make sure kids aren’t missing that instruction time,” he said.

The DHEC school guidance still recommends 3 feet of social distancing. Last week, Aiken County went to 6 feet. The other thing mentioned in the guidelines is checking everyone’s temperature at least once a week.

If you’re quarantined

The Aiken County Public district is now offering take-home meals for students who have been quarantined. Meal orders may be placed HERE. Beginning Wednesday, orders must be placed by noon for pickup the following day at the student’s home school. Pick-up times are between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. for elementary schools and 11 a.m. and noon for middle/high schools.

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