Sumter County Government explains role in Sumter School District affairs


Sumter County residents raised concerns about the current COVID-19 surge to their local officials, requesting they do something about the matter.

Three women, all of whom are mothers, addressed Sumter County Council during its Tuesday meeting, saying the health and safety of the children should be prioritized.

"No child should be forced into in-person instruction at such a trying time," Sabrina Belcher said. "We bring this to your attention today because you all are our elected officials, and we expect and are waiting action from you."

The goal to send children to school is to educate them adequately and safely, Belcher said, but sending them to school as COVID-19 cases surge daily is the opposite of that.

Brittany Martin agreed with Belcher's statements even though her children do not attend Sumter School District. Her children have been learning online for three years because she thought it was a safer route long before the pandemic.

Martin said no parent should have to fear for their child's life, let alone experience a child's death.

"I'm a parent who has buried a child," Martin said. "I buried a child 12 years ago. I know that loss, I know that pain, and I know that feeling of losing a child."

She also called on council members to think of the children and do something before the worst-case scenario becomes a reality for a parent.

Crystal Bryan said she does not understand why the Sumter School District is not closing schools down after a positive case was reported.

"My child went to Cherryvale Elementary," she said. "The first day, they were already calling parents about the COVID issues. The first day."

After the second week of classes, Bryan said more schools called parents with more reported cases.

"Why haven't the school district closed down the schools for the safety of our kids?" Bryan asked council. "If they're supposed to be our future, then we need to give them a reason to look forward to the future instead of sitting here acting like it's not a big deal."

Council members heard three women during public comments, but the matter was not up to Sumter County Government.

"We had several comments at the Aug. 24, 2021, county council meeting about masks in schools," Chairman Jim McCain said. "I was happy to speak with those parents after the meeting and explain that they needed to bring those concerns to the proper deliberative body, which is the Sumter School District Board of Trustees."

However, Sumter School District's Board of Trustees, an elected nine-member board, decided in a split 5-4 vote to not require face masks in schools Monday night, before the council meeting.

This matter has been a national debate across the U.S. as the delta variant continues to push COVID-19 cases up the charts.

Sumter School District had 145 positive COVID-19 cases, including both students and staff, as of Aug. 20. School began Aug. 17.

A total of 44 staff members had been directed to quarantine and 1,565 students. These totals did not include Sumter High School.

According to Shelly Galloway, the district's executive director of communication and community engagement, district totals will be updated once per week.

Sumter County Council's only role regarding the schools is to approve or not approve the district's request for funding, said Joe Perry, communications coordinator for Sumter County Government. It does not determine any school functions.

Sumter County Government and its council members do continue to ask the community to get vaccinated. Council approved a resolution on Aug. 10, encouraging residents to wear face coverings amid the resurge.

"We have used our website and social media platforms to consistently urge people in Sumter County to get the COVID-19 vaccine because it can save your life," Perry said. "And it's free."

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sumter County Government has worked with the health care community and partnered with Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital to host a vaccine clinic at the Sumter County Civic Center, held a veterans-focused vaccine clinic and partnered with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to open Sumter County community centers for vaccine clinics with a focus on our rural areas.

"County Council and County Government will continue to urge folks to get vaccinated, as we want our community to be as healthy as possible," Perry said. "[Today], Eastern Community Center will be the site for another free COVID-19 vaccine clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and we hope people will take advantage of it."