Colleton Co. school board votes to return to in-person learning

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 5:36 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2021 at 11:39 PM EDT
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WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCSC) - The first Lowcountry school district to switch to virtual learning is bringing students back to the classroom next week.

The Colleton County School Board voted Wednesday to return to in-person learning starting on Monday. The district switched to virtual learning on Aug. 30 because of the number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

“It’s very important for our children to be back in person,” said Vallerie Cave, superintendent of the district. “Our children can be safe at school, and we can make sure they are getting a proper education in classroom with our teachers.”

Cave said the temporary virtual learning did the job it was supposed to do – bring down the number of active COVID-19 cases in the district. District data presented at the meeting showed there were 126 case in the weeks leading up to the switch to virtual. On Wednesday, there are just 41. The number of students in quarantine was not presented, but Cave says it’s dramatically lower than what it was before going virtual.

“We are at a safe place where we can return to in-person learning because the numbers have decreased,” Cave said.

Ahead of the vote, half a dozen parents addressed the board. Some advocated for school to resume in person, while others wanted the district to provide a full-time virtual option.

“If you’re going to implement these mask mandates, what are my options for my child because there is no virtual. There is no hybrid schooling, so I am stuck,” said parent Katie Vanwhy. “What am I supposed to do? I am supposed to home school now, right? So now I have to look into home schooling options.”

Cave says she is sympathetic to idea of virtual learning and giving parents more options, but says her hands are tied by the state legislature.

“The state, based upon the proviso 1.108, they allow you to have 5% of your student population [in virtual],” Cave said. “Which averages out to about 240 students for Colleton County that can be in a virtual option.”

She says she is submitting another proposal to the state to get the virtual option up and running, but says they’ll only be able to add about 150 more students across the entire district to a virtual school because of the state proviso. If authorized, Cave says students will likely get in on a first come, first served basis.

The district will continue to encourage social distancing, check temperatures, and have plexiglass available along with its continued cleaning regiment when students return next week. The district will also host a weekly vaccination clinic for those eligible to receive a vaccine.

The board also heard legal advice regarding its mask mandate in executive session, but did not take any action. Cave says students will be wearing masks on Monday.

The district says students who refuse to wear a mask will be sent home if their parents are still on campus. If the student’s parents have already left then the student will be allowed into the school and given a mask to wear. They say students who still refuse to wear a mask will be required to remain behind their desk shield at all times.

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