DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Dorchester District 2 made the decision to close schools on a case-by-case basis as COVID-19 cases rise, putting a strain on staffing and students.
The district’s board of trustees met early Friday morning to review the current COVID-19 impact on schools during a special called meeting.
Superintended Joe Pye called the meeting after the district saw doubling numbers of positive COVID-19 cases within a 24-hour period.
COVID cases in the community went from 151 cases on Dec 1 to 2,367 cases on Jan 12. Increase from 1,156 to 2,367 from Jan 5 to Jan 12.
While Pye said they do want students to learn in the classrooms, he described the numbers as astronomical. He said some schools are being forced to host three or more classes in a classroom due to staffing issues.
He feels it puts people “in harm’s way.”
Pye said there were four options: close the entire school district, ignore it and move on, or implement a mask mandate to see if mitigation helps stop the spread.
He felt the best option was to work with schools on an individual basis, based on each school’s needs.
If a school does shut down after meeting a threshold, it would be for five to ten days including weekends.
“Considering schools with 30% of students/staff at a school being out, could be an option used to determine schools that need virtual,” said Pye. Percentages may be added to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.
He said there was one school that has been identified that needed to be closed, the rest would be evaluated after the holiday weekend, and that it was still likely the school district could close if the cases continue to rise. Those schools were later identified as DuBose Middle School and Oakbrook Middle School beginning January 18 – 24th.
The principal at Newington Elementary School spoke out saying as a public school due to regulations, they cannot just change some COVID-19 policies to protect students and staff members. She said right now, 23% of her staff are out of work today.
She said because of the low staffing, the school cannot respond to all the calls they are getting to help children.
Meanwhile, the principal at River Oaks Middle School, Jack Mansor, said he has 217 students of 927 students out due to COVID-19, and 17 teachers are out of the classroom. He said administrators are having to staff classrooms.
“We can’t keep doing this every day,” he said.
Teachers are working during all class periods, including their planning period; “all my staff… we all are working together to try to make this happen. But I don’t know how long we can do it,” said Mansor.
Summerville High School principal Kenny Farrell said teachers are covering fellow teachers, teacher aides are covering teachers. “How long can we do that before we start losing people,” he asked.
Farrell said no one at the school had hesitated in helping out, but he said they are running on empty.
“We are desperately sinking… morale is at an all-time low,” said Pye. He said he’s been in contact with neighboring districts, state district leaders, and the state superintendent of education when it comes to making decisions and monitoring cases.
Several parents spoke at Friday morning’s meeting saying they were not in favor of schools going virtual.
Face masks are still federally mandated on school buses.