Anderson School District One has smooth opening – except for COVID

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During their meeting Tuesday, the Anderson School District One Board of Trustees heard reports on school opening, COVID and the building program.
“We had a fantastic school opening,” District One Superintendent Robbie Binnicker told the Board adding, “if we just take away COVID.”
Binnicker said opening day August 17?? went very well, even with some final construction activities going on up to the opening.
The 2021 school year began with the largest number of students ever. The District had a ten day enrollment of 10,593 students, which according to Binnicker, was 1,130 more students than last year. “We had a huge increase from one year to the next,” he said, “even though a couple of hundred students left for some type of virtual learning last year.” “Those students are back,” he said.
Binnicker said Spearman and Concrete had the largest increase, mainly from the students families moving to that area.
The start of school did have a challenge due to the ongoing pandemic.
Since the start of school, District One has had 258 students and 38 staff members affected by COVID.
On the first day of school there were 151 students in quarantine either because a sibling or parent had it, Binnicker said.
Palmetto High had 15 students in quarantine on the first day and that number increased to 23 the second day. “As of yesterday (Monday) there were 953 students quarantined, he said.
Binnicker said a quarantined student had “a close contact of three feet for a period of fifteen minutes or more in a day.”
This could be with another student or staff, he said.
“We tried our best to create an environment where students are three feet apart. We do have a couple of classrooms that are just not big enough to do that.”
Binnicker said a lot of the students in quarantine are due to contact at home with either a sibling or parent. Some are from contact at school, he said.
“Nine hundred fifty three is a lot.” That was on Monday.
Binnicker said even so the number is less than ten percent of the student population. “We still have ninety percent in front of teachers for in person learning face to face,” he said.
On a positive note, the number had dropped to 803 by Tuesday.
Responding to a question by a board member about comparing to last year, Binnicker said, “It is much more than last year.”
Binnicker said that it is hard to be definitive about where a student contracted the virus, he said it is an assumption. “We have a pretty good idea.”
“This year if a family member has it, you are giong to get it,” Binnicker said.
Binnicker said the District currently has 35 staff members in isolation. There have been a total of 66 since the start of school. The District has a total of 1100 employees.
He said if enough staff members were quarantined or in isolation it could affect school.
“With 900 kids out, we can have school, but you can’t cover classes without staff,” he said.
He said currently there are eleven quarantined at home. There have been a total of 21, he said.
There are 178 students in isolation that have tested positive. There are 275 total in isolation, with the difference being with symptoms but they have not been tested.
“The District has has 865 students in quarantine that have had close contact to somebody who tested positive,” Binnicker said.
The Superintendent said “It is incredibly difficult to deal with. A large portion of our day is on phone calls and dealing with it.”
Binnicker said a self contained class is very difficult. “We have had virtually an entire class quarantined,” he said. “There are no good answers to this right now. We are in a spike. I hope that next week or two, the cases will come down dramatically. There are a lot of school districts doing a lot of things.”
Binnicker said he will be meeting with other school superintendents in Columbia next week and the COVID situation will be a big discussion.
He said that the COVID related numbers are significantly higher than the District would normally see from a flu outbreak. “We don’t quarantine for flu,” he said.
Binnicker said if a student or staff member is vaccinated, that person would not have to quarantine if they are in contact with someone.
He said that persons who are vaccinated are less likely to be symptomatic and if they are it is less severe. He said some vaccinated people have become symptomatic.
At least one student, one staff and one parent in the district have been hospitalized due to COVID, he said.
Binnicker said teachers and staff have been asked, but are not mandated, to wear masks, but almost all are. It is also being encouraged that students wear masks but few are, he said.
District One Director of Finance Travis Thomas reported the District received $908,000 from the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) for May. Of that $181,000 went to property tax relief and $726,000 to capital improvements.
Anderson County collected a total of $2.8 million for May, of which 31.5 percent comes to District One.
The Board unanimously approved a new company for language translation services. District One has more than 800 students who do not speak English. Binnicker said the District would have saved approximately $4000 last year if they had been with the new company.
Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Jeff Wilson and Dr. Tiffany Estes presented information to the board about the COGNIA accreditation process the District will undergo this fall. The process includes surveys of students, staff teachers and parents on Climate and Culture, Inventories and Student Engagement.
Each school will also provide evidence for performance standards. Board members will also be involved in the process.
In his building program update, Binnicker said that punch list items are being completed at Wren and Palmetto Elementary. There are some HVAC issues at Palmetto High and work is continuing on the center office conversion to classroom space. He said the work should be completed by October.
District officials will meet with the architect next week to look at final designs for the new District IT building that will be constructed at the Spearman Elementary campus.