R2 teachers call for return to virtual learning as COVID-19 cases rise

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Richland Two School District teachers are calling out for a return to virtual learning as the number of COVID-19 cases in the midlands continues to rise.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find hordes of teachers very soon refusing to put themselves at risk and their communities at risk,” R2 second-grade teacher Dr. Chris Hass said.

The district is currently operating in Phase Two, where the elementary students attend in person 5 days a week. Middle and high schools are operating on a hybrid schedule.

Hass said that many R2 teachers are at a breaking point, saying that it’s impossible to keep students 6 feet apart in the classroom and in-person learning isn’t safe as the number of COVID-19 cases in Richland County continues to rise.

Hass teaches second grade at a Richland Two school but has been quarantining since Friday after finding out he was in close contact with someone who tested positive at school.

“To be honest, I don’t feel like anyone cares; I truly don’t,” Hass said. “I wish they did, but no response I’m getting from anyone outside my immediate community makes me feel like anyone cares, just show up and teach.”

Haas said after having two family members die from COVID-19 this month, the safety concerns are personal.

“Then to find out that I had been put at risk, and I might be bringing that into my home where my 73-year-old mother lives, that’s horrific,” Hass said.

Richland Two Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis stressed that the district wants to be proactive when it comes to quarantining.

“We’re taking a very aggressive position when it comes to contact tracing and quarantining,” Dr. Davis said. “For example, if you can’t tell us that you weren’t a close contact, then you were a close contact.”

Richland Two’s COVID-19 dashboard, which was updated last Thursday, shows that between December 1st through December 3rd there were 17 new positive cases and 108 close contacts.

However, Hass said the problem is that close contact is inevitable in many of the classrooms.

“I know for a fact that there are hundreds of teachers in my school district who are prepared to stop showing up for work if they don’t feel like their classrooms are safe places,” Hass said. “If we’re not put in a safer position than we are now, I won’t be shocked if that happens much sooner rather than later.”

Ashley Walker said next week will be her last as a teacher at Blythewood High School.

“Teaching is one of those things I feel is a part of me so I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to return,” Walker said. “But for now I just felt like I needed to take care of myself first, and I didn’t feel like teachers were being taken care of the way I hoped they would be.”

She said she resigned over COVID concerns.

“Leaving was a very difficult decision for me, I’m one of those people that was never supposed to quit teaching, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Walker said.

Richland Two officials said they’ve had over 200 teachers resign since March, but that the number of resignations isn’t out of the ordinary. Dr. Davis said that although there have been resignations due to COVID-19, the district hasn’t had to lay off any teachers during the pandemic.

Dr. Davis said the district will close a school if 25 percent of the students and staff have been quarantined or if there isn’t enough staff to operate the school, but that the district doesn’t plan to revert back to Phase One. He said that they will be evaluating situations school by school.

Richland Two announced that December 21 and 22 will be e-learning days for all students, saying that it will provide the chance to complete contact tracing ahead of Christmas break.

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