At the beginning of January, Katie Halstensgard created a petition on the website Change.org, calling for an open panel of school administrators and medical experts to address concerns over the school district’s school attendance plans. As of Jan. 12, the online petition had more than 4,000 signatures.
The petition comes after Greenville County Schools announced it intended to have students in class on Jan. 4 after the winter break even though COVID-19 case numbers were reaching record highs. The petition, Halstensgard said in an email, is to encourage the school district to explain its decisions on its attendance plans.
While Halstensgard, a former GCS employee and parent to a GCS student, had been impressed with the district’s response to the pandemic initially, that subsided over time. She said Superintendent Burke Royster’s reasoning behind the attendance plans and changes became “incompatible with all other information I read or heard regarding the pandemic.”
“I started the petition to push Royster to make it make sense,” Halstensgard said.
The petition questions the transparency behind the school districts’ decision-making process related to the attendance plans. Halstensgard noted GCS said its reasoning behind Jan. 4 attendance had been based on medical expertise by health experts at DHEC, Prisma and Bon Secours.
“Based on the many protocols GCS has in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID, none of these entities have at this time, or any time, recommended that we step back from our current or proposed operating mode,” a statement from GCS in response to Halstensgard’s petition said.
In a statement provided by the health system’s spokesperson, Prisma said some officials provide recommendations to Greenville County Schools but didn’t name who those officials are. “We believe school districts can provide classroom learning safely if the districts are committed to the integrity of the safety process.”
Similarly, Bon Secours Health System released a statement saying, “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Bon Secours, in conjunction with other local health care entities, has served as a strategic advisor and partner to Greenville County schools as they manage their education plans.”
Halstensgard said the responses were “predictable, lacking and willingly obtuse.” She said the point was to have an open discussion, not a list of names.
On Thursday, Jan. 7, Halstensgard sent an email directly to Royster asking for an open panel to provide what she says continues to be a lack of transparency.
GCS officials said they had been in contact with Halstensgard about the petition.