COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — COVID-19 cases have prompted the largest South Carolina school district to return to virtual lessons as students in more than 60 other districts prepare to return to class.
Pickens County school officials made the decision at an emergency meeting Friday, after nine days of in-class learning for the system’s 15,000-plus students, the Greenville News reported.
“We don’t know if it’s safe to continue as is,” and other districts should pay attention, district spokesman Darian Byrd said during the meeting.
Officials said 142 students and 26 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since schools opened, and 534 students and 28 staff members were in quarantine as of Friday, WYFF-TV reported.
Last school year’s peak was 85 students in January of this year, immediately after the winter break, officials said.
Byrd said four staffers and one student are hospitalized
The county’s remote schooling will last at least this week, with the first two days giving students a chance to pick up laptop-like Chromebooks, officials said.
Byrd said the district will announce next week’s plans by Thursday.
Other districts’ openings are scattered from Monday to Thursday.
By the end of this week, Union County students will be the only ones out of 760,000 statewide who are still on summer break. They start back August 23
It’s another very different school year. Many schools are welcoming students back in person after the 2020-21 school year saw massive disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
School leaders have said students and teachers are welcome to wear masks, but they can’t mandate them even with another spike in COVID-19 cases. They also can’t require vaccines for students who are eligible for the shots.
The South Carolina General Assembly put a rule in this year’s state budget prohibiting districts from requiring masks. It passed in June before the current massive increase in COVID-19 cases started. Gov. Henry McMaster agrees that parents should choose if students wear masks.
Lawmakers also put a rule in the budget that school districts will start losing significant funding if more than 5% of their students choose to go to classes virtually.