BEAUFORT, S.C. (WCSC/WTOC) - Beaufort County School District’s superintendent said the district will launch the fall school year with all-virtual instruction, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
Superintendent Dr. Frank Rodriguez made the announcement Wednesday morning from the district’s Facebook page.
“The coronavirus has been out of control. Given current conditions, the question is not if a child or a teacher will be infected with COVID-19. It’s when,” Rodriguez said. “Having reviewed the heck metrics for the past six weeks, we find that conditions simply are not improving in our community. And in fact, they have been getting worse.”
Rodriguez said that last week, the county reported a record 113 new infections in a single day. He also cited the county’s percent-positive rate for COVID-19 testing, saying that the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control designates any counties with rates of 10% or higher as “high.”
“In the most current metrics released Monday, Beaufort County’s positive rate was 20.8%,” he said.
Rodriguez emphasizes that he wants to return to face-to-face instruction, as do most teachers, support staff, students and families.
“But before that can happen safely, conditions must be safer than they are today,” he said. “The coronavirus is out of control, and no country in the world has successfully reopened its schools when infection rates were this high. The question given current conditions is not “if” a child or teacher will be infected, it’s when.”
After school starts, the school district will continue to assess the situation, Rodriguez said.
The school board voted in July to approve the new school calendar with the Sept. 8 start date.
Gov. Henry McMaster recommended districts statewide wait until after Labor Day to begin school this fall to allow more time for preparing for teaching amid the ongoing pandemic. But McMaster pushed districts to offer parents who want it an option to send their children to the classroom for five-day in-person instruction. He also said at a July news conference that he had instructed State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman not to approve any district’s fall plans that did not include that in-person option.
Spearman has since said she would not require school districts to submit plans with five days of in-person instruction if they do not think it is safe to do so.
“I’m not using five-days a week as criteria,” she said on July 22. “There will be some five-days approved but there will be other hybrid plans as well.”
The Beaufort County School District’s fall plan was one of 25 district plans statewide that Spearman approved on July 30. But Rodriguez said the approval contained a caveat “that has caused some consternation at the local level,” which stipulates the approval is contingent upon the district offering an in-person option no later than Sept. 14.
Rodriguez said he would lobby the state in hopes of being granted relief from that provision.
South Carolina Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown said that any changes to a district’s opening plan would also have to be reviewed and then re-approved. Districts were provided instructions on how to submit changes to any already-approved fall plans, he said.