S.C. Dept. of Education leaders caught off guard by McMaster’s school test kit announcement

S.C. Dept. of Education leaders caught off guard by McMaster’s school test kit announcement

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster made a major announcement on Thursday that all public schools in the state would receive COVID-19 testing kits.

But it appears the South Carolina Department of Education didn’t realize that the governor was going to announce the news that day.

“While the SCDE has been working with DHEC on guidance and logistics surrounding these test kits and their use in our education system, neither our agency staff nor the State Superintendent were made aware of the Governor’s announcement yesterday evening,” spokesperson Ryan Brown said in a statement to WMBF News.

Brown added that schools and districts don’t have the finalized guidance on the use and distribution of the test kits.

During the news conference on Thursday, McMaster said that it will be up to the parent or guardian if they want their child to be tested, and that a consent form will be required before a child can be tested.

“We want all the schools to operate safely,” McMaster said. “We want the schools to be open and those tests will be available.”

Brown stated that the state Department of Education has not seen or been involved in the creation of the consent forms that McMaster referenced during the news conference.

Dr. Brannon Traxler, the interim director of public health for DHEC, also spoke about the testing kits during the news conference. She said that the rapid antigen tests have been provided by the federal government.

She added that the goal is to have the test kits at schools the week after Thanksgiving.

“We will be issuing a standing order, authorizing the school nurses to be trained in how to collect the specimen and how to perform the test, Dr. Traxler said. “This is just inside the nose, the real shallow nasal swab, the [nurses] will be trained in that. The first round will be aimed to be used for symptomatic students and staff. During the cold and flu season, [the testing kits] will allow us to rule out COVID-19 more easily in these children. This will allow the students to stay in schools if [they test] negative and don’t have another condition such as the flu, therefore reduce the amount of time that students are missing from school.”

Our news team reached out to the Horry County Schools to confirm if they had received any information about the governor’s office rolling out the school testing prior to the announcement made Thursday night.

School Board Chairman Ken Richardson said although he supports steps being taken to get students back into the classroom for full-time face-to-face instruction, he was a bit taken off guard Thursday night after hearing the timeline for COVID-19 testing at the schools.

“I was a little shocked to find out. we’re going to be getting the testing kits as fast as they’re predicting we’re going to get them,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he feels the governor is working hard to get students back in the classrooms five-days a week and having voluntary COVID-19 testing kits for students will help make sure students, teachers and staff are healthy.

But like some school leaders, Richardson said he didn’t expect a timeline for testing to be provided right before the holiday break.

Richardson said Horry County Schools will more than likely be on a different timeline for when the voluntary COVID-19 testing could take place on the school grounds.

“I don’t anticipate it being that fast for us to be honest with you,” Richardson said. “More than likely, for us, I would say it will be between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Horry County parent Cindy Johnson has two kids in the school system. She feels the channel of communication starting on the state level down to the local schools needs to be a bit clearer, so the messaging for parents during this pandemic is consistent.

“I think there needs to be more communication from the governor’s office to the schools as well as from the schools to us,” Johnson said. “I think it needs to run down the chain before it’s just publicly announced and everyone’s blind sighted. Everyone needs to have a chance to look at the information and make an educated decision.”

Dr. Traxler said all results, positive and negative cases, will be a reporter to DHEC and contact tracing will continue to take place. Traxler has not yet provided an exact number of how many COVID testing kits will be distributed to schools.

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