LEXINGTON, S.C. — Since the beginning of September, Lexington School District One has seen more COVID-19 cases than they saw during all of the 2020-2021 school year.
"Our in-school spread is being driven by community spread where we can't mask," said Dr. Greg Little, Superintendent of Lexington School District One. "And so, when we can't mask, or we don't have masking in school, there's nothing in there that really stops that spread."
The latest COVID-19 report shows 252 positive cases within students and 2,335 students in quarantine. The COVID dashboard also is reporting 46 staff members with active cases, and 59 members in quarantine.
Dr. Little said the district is seeing a decline in cases, but they continue to see numbers that far exceed last school years.
"Our peak day last year was 142, and we had more than double that, if I'm not mistaken, within the first week of the school year," Dr. Little said.
The superintendent blames the lack of mask wearing and mandates in schools for the surge in cases this year.
"We are not using all the mitigation strategies at our disposal," Dr. Little said. "Last year, we masked, and we had very little in-school spread. Of course, this year we have not done that and so, as a result, our in-school spread is very driven by our community spread. That was not the case last year. Even though we were at high spread for a community, we actually had very little spread in school with masking. And this year, the opposite is the case, because high community spread is really driving our in-school spread."
The district experienced high spread of cases within schools, resulting in nine (9) schools so far this year, that temporarily went virtual to mitigate the spread. All schools have now returned to in-person learning, according to the superintendent.
Dr. Little told News 19, the state proviso that bans mask mandates in schools was created during a time when cases were low, and times are different now.
"It's important for us to add into the conversation is that, local boards certainly can be more adaptable and flexible when it comes to this, because the thing that we've learned about COVID is that COVID keeps evolving," Dr. Little said. "What we think the situation is today, might be very different than what the situation is going to be on November 1st. And that situation can be very different than what it's going to be on February 1st.
Little said school boards should have individual powers to enforce a mandate, if and when it's needed.
"Because local boards are better able to address those issues, we think that's something that needs to be put back in the hands of our local board of education, and I think that our local community agrees with that," Dr. Little said.
Last week, a one-question survey was released to parents and staff members in the school district.
"It was a pretty easy, straight forward question," said Anne Marie Green, Chairwoman of Lexington School District One. "Just would you support the board considering a mask requirement."
According to the district's Chief Communications Officer, the survey said:
"Lexington County is currently experiencing a high volume of spread of COVID-19 in the community. This high community spread is greatly impacting our Lexington District One schools. As a result, the district shifted several schools to e-learning and a growing number of students and staff are sick or quarantined.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recommend mask-wearing in schools.
The Board of Trustees understands that masks remain a hot-button issue throughout our country. We want you to have the opportunity to voice your opinion about the use of masks in our schools. Please answer the following one-question poll about the use of masks in Lexington District One.
Which of the following statements do you agree with most?
The Lexington District One Board of Trustees should consider temporarily requiring masks in times of high community spread (as designated by DHEC) in order to maximize face-to-face learning.
Masks should remain optional in Lexington District One Schools, and the Lexington District One Board of Trustees should not consider temporarily requiring masks regardless of circumstances."
12,985 households responded to the survey, with a total of about 17,500 households with children enrolled in the district. Green said the results showed 69% of parents in the district said they would support a temporary mask mandate.
"I think folks recognize that using a mask might be a way to keep students in the class in front of teachers," Green said.
The survey also showed 69% of staff members, out of the 81% who took the survey, would support a temporary mandate.
Green said during the next board meeting on Tuesday, members will consider a resolution that asks the general assembly to repeal the proviso and allow boards to decide is a mandate is needed or not.