FIRST DAY BACK: Columbia public schools begin school year with mask mandate

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — Students went back to school today with masks at Richland One and Two School Districts. Both the city of Columbia and Richland County councils approved a mask mandate for schools.

However, that was just one tool in place to keep kids safe as COVID cases rise across the state.

Schools are also using social distancing, including plexiglass, sanitizing stations, cleaning protocols and contact tracing to try to keep children learning in-person. There are also other changes to daily operations.

“One way hallways, as opposed to two-ways, and those type of things,” said Dr. Craig Witherspoon, superintendent of Richland One School District. “We will have students eating in classrooms. If they are eating in the cafeteria or using it for classroom space, they are able to make some adjustments to schedules to be as safe as possible.”

Safety for the Richland One School District also means requiring masks.

“We’re glad to have our students back. We also know from our health officials that if we do those things, we can have a safe year and keep students in school. That’s the goal,” the superintendent said. “We certainly learned from last year’s experience that the best for them to be is in school.”

Hopkins Middle School’s principal is happy with the district’s decision to have a mask mandate.

“Knowing that my sixth graders are not vaccinated, it does make me feel relieved that everyone is coming back with masks. Everybody is safe. Safety is my top priority,” said Principal Alexandria Williams. “I want everyone to be safe, feel safe and parents to know their kids are in a safe environment.”

Going into her second year as principal at Hopkins, Williams is also used to getting the school ready to keep students as safe as possible from COVID.

“We have the same safety measures in place. We started last year in a similar situation so we were ready and prepared for what we needed for this school year,” the principal said.

The school conducted a lot of preparation before a first day of school that Williams is happy is finally here.

“Oh I am so excited! I know the kids are excited to be here,” she said.

With so much excitement all around to be physically in the classroom, Williams and Witherspoon hope it lasts.

Yet they are prepared if schools have to go back to virtual learning.

“We are prepared for any modality we have to go to,” Williams said. “Our teachers have been trained and are ready for that.”

Pickens County upstate has been forced to temporarily go back to virtual learning because of an outbreak of cases.

Kershaw County School District in the Midlands has also had to quarantine almost a thousand students.

Richland One’s staff hopes the measures in place can keep case numbers down. They say the mask mandate as a tool is not just a relief to them, but also to many bus drivers who were contemplating working this fall. However, the district is still looking for more.

Categories: Local News, Richland