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Orangeburg County School District boosting security; clear bag policy to cover all high, middle schools
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Orangeburg County School District boosting security; clear bag policy to cover all high, middle schools

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The Orangeburg County School District will begin implementing some extra safety protocols following the August shooting at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School that left three students injured.

Clear book bags, for example, will be required at all middle and high schools beginning Monday.

“You never waste a good crisis, and when something happens, it would be, in my opinion, malpractice if we didn’t have to go in and look at things across the board,” OCSD Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster said Tuesday.

Foster reported on the new measures during the OCSD board meeting.

Since the shooting, O-W has added security personnel, staggered dismissal schedules, required students to clear through metal detectors upon entering school and required the use of clear book bags.

Now similar measures will be taken districtwide to ensure that schools are kept safe, Foster said.

“Starting on Sept. 20, we’re going to institute a clear bag protocol at our middle and high schools. We’re going to provide the clear bag to all of our students this go round. It would be unfair of me to ask a parent to go out and purchase another bag after they’ve already purchased one for this year,” Foster said.

He continued, “Parents can expect next year that there will be a policy that will (extend) to K-12. So when they’re purchasing bags for our students next year, we’re going to encourage them and give them information on resources to purchase the clear bags.”

A clear bag or no bag policy is already in effect at all athletic events districtwide.

“As you go and root and cheer our football and volleyball teams on now, please be prepared to only bring a clear bag or no bag at all,” Foster said.

The superintendent said the district has also started scheduling random drug and weapon sweeps using canine units in partnership with the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office.

“This will happen in our parking lots and in our school buildings as well, just to make sure that students are aware that we’re not going to tolerate anything on campuses that shouldn’t be on campus.

“There’s no other way to say that. Schools are going to be safe places, and we’re going to do whatever we have to do to ensure that. I have to thank law enforcement for their continuing partnership in making sure that this happens. These will be random, and it’ll spread amongst a variety of schools throughout the year,” Foster said.

The district is also researching the purchase of additional metal detection devices for schools that will also be able to take temperatures and pictures.

“We want to do that because, again, we have to consider not only the physical safety, but also the health and safety of students given that we’re in a COVID environment. So this is just another layer that we will use that everyone can go through and get their temperature checked quickly, any metal detection, but also we’ll have a picture that we can capture and save of any of our visitors, or any of our students as we continue to ensure that they’re safe,” Foster said.

The district is also researching opportunities for School Resource Officer grants to “hopefully get to a point where we’ll have an SRO in all of our elementary schools as we do in our middle and high schools,” he said.

Foster said the opening of school this year has been “extremely challenging,” including with the school shooting, but he is thankful for the support of not only O-W faculty, staff and students, but the law enforcement and emergency management agencies, parents, board members and others who helped.

Board Chairwoman Ruby Edwards said, “It was our prayer that nothing like this would happen but, you know, in these days and times, we are experiencing things like this all over the country.

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“Our prayers go out to the victims and their families. As leaders, it is our job to try to make sure students and our faculty and staff are equipped to deal with these issues, and we must continue to keep our parents and community involved.”

Edwards thanked law enforcement for their response, along with the superintendent and his team.

“The board will continue to support our superintendent as he continues to provide ways to make sure that our students are safe as possible,” she said.

COVID-19 report

Foster said a provision in the South Carolina budget that said state money cannot be used to carry out any school mask mandates had presented a challenge to this year’s school opening.

“This has probably been the most challenging year I’ve had as an educator in my 25 years of education,” Foster said.

He gave the board a summary report on COVID-19 and its impact on the district.

“This starts back at the beginning of August, prior to school being in session. … To date, we’ve had 2,594 students impacted with COVID. That’s either being in isolation, close contact or positive. Of that, 160 of those were household contacts,” he said, noting that 1,763 were close contacts.

The superintendent said there were only 510 positive cases, with 161 having had signs or symptoms.

“Right now to date, we have 764 students who are currently under quarantine. Of that, 718 of them will be returning sometime before the end of this month. … So we’re not only tracking the day that they go out, but also after their quarantine period when they will be returning,” Foster said.

The district is also tracking information on its more than 1,920 employees.

“We’ve had a total of 48 employees that have been considered a close contact. We’ve had two that were close contacts initially that actually turned out to be positive. So of that 48, only two have been identified as a close contact and turned out to be positive.

“We’ve had 41 total employees that have been positive, and two that were close contacts, got tested and realized that they were actually negative, for a total of 1,830 employees that have not been impacted at all,” Foster said.

“You hear across the state about schools having to transition or the challenges. A lot of that’s due to the employees. I can attribute this to a number of reasons. I believe many of our employees are continuing to wear masks, but hopefully many of our employees are also continuing to adhere to the health and safety guidelines that we’ve asked them to adhere to,” he said.

Foster said the district is also tracking the percentage of students who are wearing masks throughout the district.

“We’re right now at about 95 percent of our parents requiring their students to wear masks and 95 percent of our students wearing masks. … I wish in some areas we had a better percentage, but overall we’re making the best decisions and I believe that’s yielding our results with our employee and our student numbers,” he said.

“I want to continue to commend our students and parents for making the wise decision to wear masks. … To date, we have 1,269 employees that we can verify that have been fully vaccinated through the incentive program that the board so graciously approved last board meeting.

“So that puts us at about 66 percent verification of employees. We still have forms that are coming in, and employees have until Oct. 18 to receive or get fully vaccinated. So hats off to the employees for making that wise decision,” Foster said.

He said the district has also worked to make its tracking protocols more efficient and not as burdensome on, for example, school nurses.

“Amanda Looper in our technology department has been instrumental in developing a more streamlined and a more efficient process for our nurses and our COVID teams in our schools,” Foster said.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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