Editor’s note: A previous version of this story used the incorrect name for DD2 board member Barbara Crosby, which has been corrected.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Dorchester District Two (DD2) Board members on Wednesday voted to move to virtual learning effective Tuesday, September 7. Students will return to in-person learning on September 16.

Extracurricular activities, including athletic events and practices as well as extended-day, will also be suspended to protect the health of students and staff, according to district officials.

According to the district, about 5,085 students were absent due to COVID-19 as of August 31.

526 students were out with confirmed positive cases and 4,449 students were out quarantining due to close contact with a confirmed case.

Staff shortages are also a problem due to COVID-19. 75 staff members are out with a confirmed positive case and 38 are quarantined due to close contact with a confirmed case. Additionally, 37 staff members were absent “due to COVID family-related issues.”

The staffing shortage is being felt intensely when it comes to nurses. DD2 says that an average of 10 nurses and unlicensed assistive personnel (UAPs) are out daily, and there are five nurse vacancies across the district. This makes contact tracing much more difficult to do in a timely manner and puts a strain on nurses and UAPS trying to respond to day-to-day issues.

Officials hope the time spent in virtual learning will “enable many of the students and staff currently out of school due to COVID situations” to catch up and give crews the opportunity to disinfect schools.

“We need to get the rooms clean, get them sanitized and everything to get back. I think this will be much better on the learning,” said Gail Hughes, a DD2 board member.

As board members had difficulty seeing eye to eye, keeping students engaged is the main concern during this virtual period.

“These kids need to be in school and if you don’t get your foundation, those kids are not going make it,” said board member Barbara Crosby.

The board also approved an adjusted bell schedule for students upon return to in-person learning.

Upon return to in-person classes and for the remainder of the school year, the schedule will be as follows:

Elementary schools: 7:15 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Middle schools: 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
High schools, Givhans and Rollings Middle School of the Arts: 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

DD2 officials are hoping for the installment of hundreds of air purifiers in classrooms and even office spaces to help combat the spread of the virus.