MUSC helps Charleston County assess school safety

July 16, 2020
Regina Fraiya, left, listens to Jeff Borowy, center, as Principal Stephanie Spann stands beside them.
Jeff Borowy, chief operating officer of the Charleston County School District, talks with MUSC liaison manager Regina Fraiya, left, and Simmons Pinckney Middle School Principal Stephanie Spann. Photos by Sarah Pack

As the Charleston County School District carefully decides when and how to begin the new school year, whether it’s in person, online or a combination of the two, it’s working with public health experts from the MUSC Health Back2Business program to ensure the reopening is as safe as possible for students and staff.

Edward O’Bryan, M.D., leads the Back2Business team. “CCSD is taking it very seriously,” he said. “I think we’re going to do our best to get the schools started back safely. But people need to keep in mind it’s a moving target. They need to be ready to rapidly transition into alternate types of schooling if needed.”

Jeff Borowy has his eye on that target. The chief operating officer for the school district recently met with members of the Back2Business team at Simmons-Pinckney Middle School on the Charleston peninsula. The school, built in the late 1940s, is brightly lit and well-maintained. There are paintings of ironwork artist Philip Simmons and Emanuel AME Church pastor Clementa Pinckney in the hallways. Outside, bricks pave the space that connects the middle school with Burke High School.

Back2Business team members Heather Toeppner and Regina Freiya talk with Jeff Borowy of the Charleston County School District. 
Heather Toeppner, left, and Regina Fraiya of the Back2Business team talk with Charleston County School District chief operating officer Jeff Borowy about safe spacing in a classroom.

But it wasn’t aesthetics that concerned the group touring the school. It was something they couldn’t see – the coronavirus. 

The Back2Business team works with a range of organizations, from resorts to public utilities, scrutinizing surfaces and systems during the coronavirus pandemic and making recommendations that are compiled in a detailed playbook for the business. Businesses that follow through get a Back2Business seal. 

O’Bryan said the MUSC Health program gives organizations a single source to rely on that incorporates recommendations from not only MUSC Health but also the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and other public health agencies. Otherwise, businesses are left trying to sort out sometimes contradictory advice. “It’s not fair to ask schools and businesses to become public health experts.”

Back at Simmons-Pinckney, Borowy showed the MUSC Health team what’s being done or considered there and in the district’s 80-plus other schools. The Back2Business plan for the district will include specific recommendations for every public elementary, middle and high school in Charleston County.

“Every school we do is going to be a little different,” Borowy said as they walked down a hallway to visit the cafeteria and a classroom. “Classroom sizes were different till we did the standard protocol for new construction.”

Tara Torres takes notes at Simmons Pinckney Middle School 
Tara Torres of the Back2Business team takes notes outside a middle school library.

They paused at what in the past would have been a water fountain. It’s now a water bottle filling station. “We’re working very hard to get bottle fillers in all our schools. We have 17 schools that don’t have them right now. Our goal would be to have every kid and every teacher with a water bottle. Nobody’s drinking from the fountain,” Borowy said.

“Will all children wear masks?” asked Back2Business liaison manager and nurse Regina Fraiya of Borowy as they checked out classroom 109, a 700-square-foot room where the district has been testing how to configure desks.

“The indications are right now that we’d have masks for everyone in the school building who can safely wear one. You could only take them off when you get into a position where you’ve got social distancing,” Borowy answered. 

The district is also testing portable barriers for teachers. “It’s clear plastic in the middle. It’s L-shaped. You can fold it, and it’s lightweight. They can put it on their desk. They can sit across from a student and you can have that dialogue closer,” Borowy said.

“If the teachers have a conference down the hallway in a small conference room, and you want to put four of them in there, they each bring their own divider with them. That’s an option. They’re relatively inexpensive. We’re testing to see how well they can be cleaned and how long they’ll last.”

O’Bryan said school district leaders are pondering a lot of options with the help of a risk management team that includes him and other health experts. “Schools are relatively unique. We know most students aren’t likely to end up in the hospital with COVID. It just doesn’t affect them as harshly as adults. But we know this is a serious concern for the families they go home to and the teachers who are around them. We want them to know we are doing everything we can to keep them as safe as possible.”

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