McMaster calls for return to in-person learning, several districts remain online after Winter Break

Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 7:16 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Gov. Henry McMaster continues to urge school districts to offer face-to-face learning five days a week.

This latest push from the governor comes at the same time several Midlands districts have returned to virtual models for a short period of time following the winter break.

“My belief is where there is a will, there is a way,” McMaster said. “There are schools that have been open the whole time for face-to-face instruction. Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Lexington Two is scheduled to return to in-person learning on Jan. 19, the day after the Martin Luther King holiday. Richland One and Two also both plan to return to their hybrid models that day. District leaders have cited post-Thanksgiving surges as the reason for the brief virtual period.

Richland Two Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis says his district will return to in-person learning in two weeks, even if case numbers in the county remain high.

“Our decision to have our students in-person for the middle and high school levels, and of course in our community classroom models, is really not based at this point on the number of cases in the county,” Davis said.

However, it’s the potential of staffing shortages that could keep the district online. Davis noted the district did have many staff members out sick or on quarantine before Christmas.

“If we have too many individuals in quarantine, not enough bus drivers to run our buses, nurses can’t keep up with the contact tracing loads, our operational staff is down, we can’t clean our schools, then we have to make that decision,” Davis explained.

Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon sent WIS a statement that his district will also be looking at DHEC data and staff availability when deciding whether to continue virtual learning.

But McMaster doesn’t think hybrid learning models are enough.

“There are a number of districts that have been five days a week face-to-face,” said McMaster. “I see no reason why with some imagination and a little bit of work, a little bit of effort that the schools cannot open five days face-to-face. There may be some exceptional circumstances where it’s not possible, but that should be the rule not the exception.”

The State Department of Education sent WIS the following statement:

“As school districts reopen after the holiday break for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, it is important that they continue to provide families with both in-person and virtual school options. A five day a week face to face environment for students continues to be the ideal and best learning environment for those students and their families who chose face to face learning. School districts that have carried out this mode of operation have shown how to do so successfully by implementing the five key mitigation strategies put forth by the CDC and DHEC. When these strategies are put forth and carried out with fidelity, data shows that schools can be safe environments for students and staff despite the rate of spread in the surrounding community.

Since DHEC began reporting positive COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools on September 4, 2020, there have been 7,412 positive cases among K-12 students and staff who attended school face to face during their infectious period. During that same time period (9/4 to 1/3) DHEC has reported 199,972 positive cases among all South Carolinians.

This means that positive cases among K-12 students and staff who attended school account for just 3.7% of South Carolina’s total since K-12 positive case reporting began. This is despite public and private K-12 students and staff making up approximately one-fifth of South Carolina’s total population.”

While Richland One and Two school nurses work to contact trace and calculate staffing, they’re also still waiting to get a COVID vaccine. Richland Two says its head nurse, Dawn MacAdams, is contacting DHEC to see when they could get in line.

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