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Dorchester District 2 schools will move to virtual learning starting Tuesday

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 8:18 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 4:53 AM EDT
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DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The Dorchester District 2 School Board has voted to move district schools to seven days of virtual learning beginning right after Labor Day.

The virtual instruction is expected to last through Sept 15 and students will return to the classroom on Sept. 16.

THE LIST: Lowcountry schools, districts begin announcing switches to virtual learning

The board was presented with three options by the administration to temporarily go virtual.

“They should have put option D which is kids go back to school like they should be doing,” said parent Derek Clements. “They don’t care. They clearly don’t care. They don’t want to listen.”

A dozen parents sat through a lengthy Dorchester District Two school board workshop with the hopes of forcing a public comment section where they could air their grievances.

The focus of the workshop: COVID in the schools and the rising number of kids in quarantine.

The parents at the meeting were initially told by the board chair, Gail Hughes, that they would amend the agenda to allow public comments.

However, hours later Hughes told the room it would be illegal to change the agenda after it had already been approved. She also mentioned the board member received texts and emails from parents who said they would have come to the meeting if public comment had been on the agenda originally. She said it would be unfair to allow those who came to the meeting to speak when more would have shown up if public comment was on the agenda.

“The ones who were here were one side of it and that’s okay,” Hughes said. “It was a board workshop where we gather information to try and make a decision. It was not a board meeting where we allow comments.”

At one point, the board had to go into recess and a parent was escorted out after Hughes lost control of the meeting.

The latest numbers show more than 20 percent of the student body is out with COVID or in quarantine as a close contact. On Wednesday, the district logged 264 staff absences. While not all of them had COVID, many were out because a family member had COVID.

The impact of the Delta Variant goes beyond the 5,085 students who are missing out on class right now. District officials say nursing staff is burning the midnight oil trying to finish daily contract tracing while battling a staff shortage and an average of 10 daily callouts.

Parent Andrew Leighty disagreed with the board’s decision to implement any virtual school and he calls the numbers misleading.

“They had all kinds of numbers up there. They said this was COVID plus other instances, so every number they put up there was kind of inflated, wasn’t it? So it wasn’t just COVID,” Leighty said. “I think they are presenting a very inaccurate picture.”

However, Hughes said the data suggests they had to do something.

“The only thing we can hope for is that the measures we are taking are the right measures to take and that it’s going to come out in our favor,” Hughes said.

The district says staffing shortage is hurting every department with 20-25 bus drivers out daily and another 16 vacancies. There are 34 vacancies in foodservice with another 15-20 out daily. Making matters worse is a lack of available substitutes. District officials say they are mostly pressing administrators, instructional coaches and counselors to fill vacancies and monitor isolation rooms.

The district head nurse says the number of cases they’re seeing is significantly more than last year. She says there are fewer people in virtual school, making classrooms more congested than last year and the lack of a mask mandate has made spreading the already incredibly transmissible Delta Variant easier.

The lack of face masks impacts the quarantine guidelines and has been identified as one of the reasons why the numbers are so high. A close contact is identified as anyone within six feet of a positive case for more than 15 minutes. If everyone is wearing a mask properly the CDC guidelines allows that six-foot radius to be reduced to three feet.

During the meeting, Superintendent Joseph Pye announced the district would start reducing the number of time students and staff are in quarantine. Currently, students are quarantined for 14 days. The change announced would reduce that time to 10 days – something many other school districts have already adopted. The 10-day quarantine requires students to self-monitor for the remaining 4 days and wear a mask, but they can return to school during those days.

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