For now, DCSD won’t do COVID-19 tests in schools
By Bobby Bryant Editor
Students and staff members at Darlington County public schools won’t be tested for COVID-19 at school, at least for now, county Education Superintendent Tim Newman told the school board last week. On Nov. 19, Gov. Henry McMaster announced that every public school district in the state will get “rapid” COVID test kits so schools can test students or staff members on-site if anyone suspects he or she might have the virus. But Newman told the board in a Nov. 30 work session that he has “hit the pause button” on that idea because of his own concerns and those of DCSD school nurses. “We are not going to do testing (in schools) until we get much more information,” Newman said. “And even then, we may or may not be doing testing. As of today, we’re not doing testing.” Newman said McMaster’s plan “came out of the blue for school districts,” and said districts and the state Education Department are trying to puzzle out various aspects of how the plan would work. “I don’t think people have thought through what kind of labor-intensive work it is to be able to test people (at school),” Newman told the board. “ … To put that burden on schools right now” is questionable, he said. “I think just the fact that we have all these tests that we can give you – that doesn’t mean it can be done in a productive, efficient manner right now,” Newman said. The superintendent said he has been talking with school nurses who work for the DCSD, and he said they have “serious reservations” about in-school COVID testing. “Our nurses are stretched beyond thin at this point in time,” Newman said. “ … When they said this would put an unbelievable strain on them – they didn’t know how they could get this done – I said, ‘OK, let’s pause. Let’s step back and talk to some other folks.’” “I hit the pause button on that until we could get more information,” he said. “ … I listened to our nurses when they said, ‘This is just going to overwhelm us if we do this.’” Newman said other school districts are having the same concerns with McMaster’s test-in-school plan. Since only students and staff with symptoms, such as a persistent cough, would be tested, that could subject school nurses to extra risk, Newman said. Then there’s the matter of having enough “personal protective equipment” on hand, and how to safely dispose of it in a school setting. Another concern, Newman said, is that doing the COVID tests would take time away from the school nurses’ regular duties, such as treating students with run-of-the-mill illnesses. School board member Wanda Hassler asked if the public schools were going to play a role in administering a COVID-19 vaccine when one is finally available. Newman said that was still unknown. On another issue, the DCSD has been asking parents and students if they’re interested in changing their “mode of instruction” – switching from computers to classes, or vice versa. During the Nov. 30 work session, Newman gave the board an update on that. “Right now, we’re sitting at about 1,000 students that want to move from virtual to face-to-face, and about 300 students that want to move from face-to-face to virtual,” Newman said.