Officials: Mitigation working at Sumter's Liberty STEAM Charter School

0 students, staff out Thursday at Sumter charter school as COVID-19 cases fall


With increased mitigation efforts in place since Labor Day, Sumter's first-year public charter school has seen reductions in new positive virus cases and quarantines, and Thursday marked a noteworthy day.

For Liberty STEAM Charter School, it was the first day in about five weeks with no students or staff out as a virus case or a quarantined "close contact," according to Chief of Staff Trevor Ivey. Liberty opened Aug. 9 as a K-1 school, serving 192 students with about 25 staff on site at the South Sumter school.

After a rough start to the school year in August with quarantines because of the COVID-19 surge of the delta variant and the school's instructional model, which had kindergarten and first-grade students sitting around large tables for collaboration, Liberty transitioned instruction to individual desks spaced 3 feet apart.

Before the change, basically whole classes of students were required to quarantine as a "close contact" with a single, positive virus case in a classroom, Ivey said. With a socially distanced classroom environment, only students determined to be within a 3-feet bubble of an infected student have to quarantine, regardless of whether they wear a face mask, per state public health department guidelines.

Other mitigation strategies implemented in early September at the charter school included limiting student movement in the school building, handwashing several times throughout the day (sinks are in every classroom) and screenings every morning for all students - called "scholars" - and visitors to the building, according to Ivey.

Virus cases and quarantine totals each week have moved consistently downward, data show. On Sept. 22, Liberty had just five students (2.6%) in quarantine and no positive cases among students. On Thursday, totals in both categories for students and staff were zero, he said.

Ivey also attributed the lower numbers to its COVID Council, which brings together school leaders, two parent representatives, the school's nurse and a mitigation consultant from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control three days per week for 30 minutes each day.

"What we do know," Ivey said, "is that all of our current data trends show our new mitigation strategies are working to both safely offer in-person learning that keeps scholars in school five days a week. Our mitigation is centered on focused problem solving that brings stakeholders to the table."

In recent weeks, Sumter School District's virus cases and quarantine totals have also decreased. District administrators have said they think its mitigation efforts are also proving effective in schools. Additionally, the spread of COVID-19 has declined recently in the state and nation since peaking in September. Local and regional hospitalizations have been decreasing, though health officials continue to note the majority of hospitalizations, those requiring ventilators and those dying from the virus are unvaccinated.

The local district implemented a mask mandate on Monday for all students and staff.

Ivey said Liberty STEAM has been getting "overwhelming support" from its parents/families who are encouraging their children to wear masks to school. He estimated Thursday about 85% of students and staff consistently wear a mask throughout the school day.

Instruction for quarantined students at home from the charter school includes virtual recorded lessons in addition to academic packets.