School district stocks up with 40,000 masks for students
By Bobby Bryant
As Darlington County public schools roll toward a planned Sept. 8 reopening, a lot of details are being sorted out, and some of them are literally in your face.
Masks are going to be required for everyone, students and staff, returning to county public schools. Don’t have one? The school district is buying four cloth masks for every student in the district.
That works out to about 40,000 masks for the district’s roughly 10,000 students – which sounds like a tough goal to reach in a short time. But the district has already ordered the masks, and officials were expecting to receive them sometime last week.
County Education Superintendent Tim Newman, during an Aug. 5 video chat with parents via Facebook, offered new details about how the mask rules will work.
“Face masks are mandatory for all adults and all students that will be in our buildings,” Newman said. (They are also mandatory for all students riding on school buses, but that mandate came from the state, not the Darlington County School District.)
“We are providing four face masks for (each) student,” Newman added. “We have already ordered these, and in fact, we are supposed to pick them up this week.” The masks will come in smaller sizes for younger kids and larger for older ones.
What if you already have masks at home that you’ve gotten more or less used to? Students can wear their own masks, Newman said, as long as those masks don’t violate the school district’s dress code.
“What is the ‘dress code’ for the masks?” Newman asked. “It’s the same as it would be for any other article of clothing. … We don’t allow anything that would be disruptive to the school environment.”
Every school district in the United States planning a physical return to class this fall is working out these same issues. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA), also known as the School Superintendents Association, estimated that it’s going to cost $25 billion to equip all of the reopening schools in the nation with “personal protective equipment” and the necessary cleaning supplies.
How does the cost climb that high? Education Week published a list of what North Carolina alone says its school districts need to contain the virus.
The N.C. list includes a quarter gallon a day of hand sanitizer for every school entrance, exit and classroom; five cloth masks for every student, teacher and staff member; 10 disposable masks per day for visitors and students who forgot their masks; one box of tissue per week on every school bus, two boxes of tissues a week for every elementary and middle-school classroom and one box of tissues a week for every high-school classroom; and two pairs of disposable gloves per day for every staff member responsible for screening students’ temperature.
During his video chat last week, Newman added a few more details about Darlington County’s plans for returning to class:
— The school district is not considering testing students who return to its schools for the COVID-19 virus, Newman said.
— Roughly one-third of the school district’s students have enrolled in the district’s Virtual Academy, an online-learning option that will last the entire school year. Newman said 37 percent of students, and their parents, have chosen the Virtual Academy rather than a physical return to the classroom.
“That’s 37 percent less students in our buildings now,” Newman said. This will give the district more flexibility in arranging for “social distancing” in its classrooms; desks will be rearranged to keep students 6 feet apart.