Upstate schools struggle to staff classrooms as COVID-19 cases rise, some districts go remote

Local News

LAURENS COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) — Some schools across the upstate are switching to remote learning this week. District leaders said the changes come as COVID-19 cases surge in the classroom.

“Currently, we’re running about twenty-five percent of our certified staff is out and about twenty percent of our district employees are out,” said. Dr. Jody Penland, the assistant superintendent for student services for Laurens County School District 55.

Upstate schools districts are struggling to staff schools as faculty members test positive for COVID-19.

“Our issue is really trying to get our staff back in the building, so where we are now is mainly not being able to staff the classrooms. Our goal is not to shut down or our goal is not to have opportunities that our kids can’t be in-person learning,” said Penland.

Six of the nine schools in Laurens District 55 are temporarily going remote on Thursday to help ease the shortage.

“So we’re really just trying to get enough staff back in and we think that this next four to five day gap will get most of our staff that are currently sick, eligible to be able to return,” said Penland.

It’s affecting Ford Elementary, Gray Court-Owings, Hickory Tavern, and Laurens Elementary, Middle, and High School. Penland said it’s been all hands on deck to help staff them.

“We’ve been sending staff from the district office and trying to help sub and fill those positions and fills those gaps too each and every day,” said Penalnd.

He also said district leaders tried to give parents time to find figure out plans for the remote learning days.

“That’s why we went ahead and had school today, pulled a few more people in to try to cover those holes, so it wasn’t a last-minute call for our parents,” said Penland.

The district is also offering rapid COVID-19 tests for staff and students at its administrative building.

“I’m glad this is an opportunity for them to have convenient testing, where they can just come, stay in their car, stay safe, and find out quickly whether they are positive or not,” said Linda Wessel, an early childhood specialist.

Wessel helped direct cars Wednesday and said there’s high demand for tests and results.

“There’s been a lot of coming through, yesterday was very busy. From what I understand there were like 120 that came through yesterday,” said Wessel.

As of now, students are set to return to in-person class on Tuesday, after the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

On Wednesday, high schools in Oconee County School district also shifted to virtual learning through the end of the week. Starting Thursday, students in Cherokee County Schools, Spartanburg District One, and Spartanburg District Three will also go remote.

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