Posted: Friday, October 1, 2021
GCS declines to implement mask option provided by judicial decision
A federal court ruling released the afternoon of September 28 issued a temporary injunction that struck down Proviso 1.108, which prohibited South Carolina schools from mandating masks for students and employees. After consultation with district leadership and principals, Dr. W. Burke Royster announced today that GCS will not implement a mask mandate at this time, but IEP and 504 teams will continue to consider all reasonable accommodations to ensure students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education.
Over the past four weeks, COVID-19 spread within Greenville County Schools has declined by 40%. Additionally, according to the DHEC School Dashboard, GCS students are responsible for only 5% of COVID-positive school cases in South Carolina so far this year, even though the district represents about 10% of the total student population in the state. The administration believes this indicates that existing measures, including the exclusion of COVID-positive students, rigorous contact tracing and quarantining of close contacts, enhanced air exchange protocols, and other mitigation strategies, are positively affecting spread in district schools.
“Given the dramatic downward trend in GCS, our statistics compared to the state, the recognition that mask mandates are enormously burdensome on principals, teachers, and staff, and the knowledge that monitoring such a mandate takes our employees away from their primary instructional and support duties, the Greenville County Schools’ administration does not intend to implement a district-wide mask mandate at this time,” said Superintendent Dr. W. Burke Royster. “Instead, we will utilize mandatory masking only in extreme circumstances and on a school-by-school basis.”
If the current downward COVID spread trend were to reverse district-wide, GCS, with the concurrence of the Board of Trustees, could implement a district-wide mask mandate. Even without a district-wide mandate, the administration could implement a mask requirement for individual schools or classrooms experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
As parents make the decision about what is best for their children, families are reminded that masking at school remains a recommendation of DHEC and the CDC. Additionally, as of August 26, DHEC changed the parameters for determining close contacts to take into consideration the wearing of masks when the close contact occurs between students. For example, an unvaccinated* student who spends at least 15 minutes within 3-6 feet of another COVID-positive student is considered a close contact and must quarantine, unless both individuals were wearing a facial mask. As a result, the number of students missing school due to required quarantining could be significantly reduced if students were to consistently wear masks.
Current COVID-19 mitigation strategies in Greenville County Schools include:
- maintain 3-feet of distance whenever possible
- exclusion from school of students and staff who are COVID positive
- exclusion from school of unvaccinated students and staff determined to be “close contacts” of a COVID-positive individual
- rigorous contact tracing to minimize the number of students determined to be “close contacts” and therefore required under DHEC exclusion rules to quarantine
- visual cues to remind students about handwashing
- hand sanitizer stations
- enhanced air exchange protocols
- options for outdoor lunch
- limited group gatherings
- visual reminders to cover coughs and sneezes
*DHEC does not require vaccinated individuals to quarantine. We ask that parents, in consultation with their child’s primary care physician, consider vaccination for eligible students.