LEXINGTON, S.C. (WIS) – Starting Friday, September 3, three more Lexington School District One schools will shift to virtual learning.
Carolina Springs Elementary, Forts Pond Elementary, and Gilbert Elementary will transition from face-to-face instruction to e-learning until September 13.
This comes one day after White Knoll Middle School and Pelion Middle School, also in L1, made the same move.
RELATED STORY | White Knoll Middle and Pelion Middle switch to virtual instruction
L1 Superintendent Dr. Greg Little said the move is based in large part to staff shortages. With large numbers of teachers out of the building, either due to illness or quarantine, he believes it compromises the instructional integrity of the work the district is trying to do.
“What the virtual learning allows us to do, at least over a short period of time, it really allows us to consolidate those instructional resources to make sure we’re providing a robust learning experience for our students,” he said.
In an email to families, the district said “we made this decision based on the school’s percentage of students and staff who are positive, as well as the high percentage of students and staff who are also quarantined.”
District-wide, the number of students out due to COVID-related issues has jumped 40 percent since Monday from 3,978 to 5,551.
These three schools have particularly high percentages of students and staff out.
For Carolina Springs Elementary, 31 percent of students are out (positive, symptomatic, or quarantined) and 17 percent of staff are out (positive, symptomatic, quarantined, or caring for a quarantined/sick child).
At Forts Pond Elementary, 43 percent of students are out, and 17 percent of staff are out.
Gilbert Elementary has nearly 50 percent of its student body out and 12 percent of its staff.
The district notes that these are just COVID-19 related absences, and there are additional absences due to various other reasons.
Some L1 parents say the move to e-learning is a welcome one. They just wish it were for longer.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, I wish they could do more to expand it,” Robert Harrelson, the parent of an L1 student, said. “I wish it could be more district-wide. When you consider Labor Day coming up, people are going to go with family and friends and there’s probably going to be a spike. Why not have all schools just take the two weeks, shut down, re-set, go virtual.”
Little said the decision to return to in-person learning on September 13 is based on a number of factors but ensuring that there will be enough staffing to teach students “at a robust level” is key.
“We looked at when the teachers are coming back and the staff will be coming back,” he said. “So we are trying to minimize the amount of time students have to be out of the building, taking advantage of the weekends, minimizing the amount of time they’re out of the building, and then making sure that the staff will be filtering back in because it comes out to be about nine or ten days.”
Another L1 parent told WIS that it’s “really scary” to know this is this much infection at L1 schools.
For context, last school year the highest number of active positive cases in the district was 142 students on January 13, 2021. There are currently almost 600 active student-positive cases.
Meredith Tashkandi, an L1 teacher, believes that all district schools should transition to e-learning to allow the virus to stop spreading so rapidly among the community, and return two weeks later with a mask mandate in place.
She said without a mask mandate, teachers are being set up to fail. Little said the district’s “hands are tied” on the issue of a mask mandate due a temporary law in the state budget that prohibits districts from using appropriated funds to require face coverings.
RELATED STORY | How the state budget blocked SC schools from implementing mask mandates
Little said he consulted medical professionals on the idea of transitioning all L1 schools to a virtual setting, and they advised against it because “virus spread is beyond the district’s control at the moment.”
“If we were to do district-wide approaches to this, our students would still be out in the community, they’d still be going to Chick-fil-A, they’d still be going to restaurants, they’d still be going to birthday parties and hanging out at each other’s house and this kind of thing, and so really the medical professionals that we’ve talked to indicated that that actually would not solve the problem that we think it’s solving,” Little said.
He added that district staff have been meeting twice a day this week to discuss where schools are in terms of COVID-19 numbers, and assess whether an individual school is approaching levels of spread that would require a switch to virtual learning.
Lunches will still be provided to students during this virtual learning period. Parents can pick up no-cost student meals on Friday from 12 to 1 PM in front of each school.
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