R2 teachers call out sick over COVID-19 concerns as districts return to in-person learning

R2 teachers call out sick over COVID-19 concerns as districts return to in-person learning

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Students are back in the classroom on Tuesday in many school districts across the Midlands, with Lexington School District Two and Richland School District Two returning to their five-day-a-week, face-to-face models.

For Lexington Two, all grade levels returned to the five-day, face-to-face model. Richland Two is currently in its Phase Two learning model, which includes five-day, face-to-face instruction for Kindergarten through 5th graders, as well as a hybrid model for 6th through 12th graders.

However, many teachers are sounding the alarm about whether this is safe as the number of COVID cases continues to spike across the Midlands.

“It’s frustrating,” Richland Two teacher Steve Muzum said. “I can only speak from my perspective; I would love to continue to teach my students virtually.”

Many Richland Two teachers, who did not want their name released, said they feel extremely nervous and uncomfortable returning to face-to-face instruction amidst the spike in COVID-19 cases in Richland County. They said it’s led to many teachers calling out sick today.

“We are all trying to do what we think is right for our students and for our families and I do think a lot of teachers feel like they’ve been put in a position where they can’t do what they think is right,” Muzum said.

A Richland Two spokesperson said that, as of Tuesday morning, they had more than 200 certified employees out for today with 122 of those certified employees on sick leave. Some of those teachers had previously scheduled to be out; however, many of the teachers called out this morning. The district has more 2,000 certified employees, which means anyone who holds some sort of educator certification.

Several teachers told WIS that the absences Tuesday represent a collective concern from teachers. They said many want to get a COVID-19 test before returning in person, but others called out today to take a stand toward the district.

One of the biggest concerns for teachers is staffing, with teachers saying this has led to joint classes being held in school cafeterias, and teaching assistants and administrative staff filling in for teachers.

The district said that they don’t have a substitute for every teacher, but they have had enough personnel to fill in for the teachers.

Richland Two Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis said, after evaluating the number of staff out due to COVID-19 or in quarantine last week, they decided to return to face-to-face instruction.

“Can we, based on the info we have, safely return us back to school in Phase Two?” Davis said regarding what the central focus was for district officials when evaluating whether to return face to face. “And the answer to that was yes.”

“Under no circumstances if I feel that we are not able to operate our schools in a safe and secure manner am I going to send any child, any employee into harm’s way,” Davis added. “I will always put the health of our students and our employees first and foremost.”

Lexington School District Two also returned to five-day, face-to-face instruction. Superintendent Nicholas Wade said staffing shortages are a challenge for districts across the state, but they haven’t had a significant number of staff members call out today.

“The two-week break with remote learning was not just meant for students but really to see where our staff were,” Wade said. “That was the big conversation that we had not only within our district office but with each of the buildings and making sure can we have school safely and meaningfully because I don’t want four classes in the cafeteria. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon said they opted to stay virtual for this week and next week because of both the case numbers in the district and the potential for a staffing shortage if they returned to school.

One Richland Two teacher said he was shocked when Richland Two didn’t follow suit with Richland One last week given that Richland Two has comparable case numbers in the county.

Lexington School District One kindergarten through 8th graders also returned to a four-day-a-week, face-to-face model.

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