PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – The School District of Pickens County has reopened its doors at all schools for in-person learning. The district transitioned to virtual learning last week, due to growing COVID-19 cases.
“I don’t feel like one week of in-person school is to blame for the explosive case numbers inside our school. I feel like this was already a problem before school started back,” parent Kala Jansen said.
Pickens County Emergency Services said there have been more than 1,340 positive cases in the county within the last three weeks.
New data shows close to 280 students are positive within the school district, and more than 700 are in quarantine. The School District of Pickens County’s data also reveals 32 staff members are positive and 55 are quarantined.
“This is very much a community issue, not just a school issue. Pickens County as a whole is one of the highest in the state, and probably in the nation with the amount of spread right now,” said Darian Byrd, Director of Communications and Virtual Learning for the School District of Pickens County.
Byrd said while numbers have increased, there are a few reasons why school started back in-person.
“We still have some provisos that are attached to the budget that was put out this summer. Those provisos, there’s three parts that we’re really watching that dictate whether you can go virtual for an entire district. There’s a limitation on how many students you can put in virtual. That’s one thing that dictates that. There’s also a seat time mandate, which means for a student to get credit for a course, they have to sit x amount of hours to be able to get credit, Byrd said. “So when you start doing large cancellations of school, switching to virtual, all of that comes into play. We can’t endanger a student’s ability to graduate high school. There’s flexibility that we had last year, that we don’t have right now because of these provisos that are in place.”
Some people are happy school is back on, while others have some concerns.
“I know first hand with my senior just that week off, it affected his grades. He was an A, B student and his grades went down to already a C– just from the one week of virtual learning, because he doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t do well from the computer teaching him. He has to have that in face. He has to have somebody there pushing him,” Jansen said.
“It’s concerning for me because I have a lot of employees, most of my employees, they have children that are in Pickens County Schools, with us being right here in the middle. So it is concerning. I don’t want to see anything happen to their children, or I don’t want to see anything happen to their families,” said Aimee, General Manager at Shuckin Shack Oyster Bar.
The district has made COVID-19 safety revisions. Students will be spaced out as far as possible. A new group system is also now in place, to prevent students from mixing.
“They’re not really crossing paths with a lot of other folks. So, that in itself limits spread,” Byrd said. “We’re not letting classes switch up like they might do in normal times. Limiting the number of times a class can change,” He said. “We have to be able to identify every student that one student came in contact with. So there’s seating charts. When they’re lining up, we can tell you how they’re lining up, who’s around who.”
Students at all levels will eat as a cohort in the cafeteria or classroom. The district said there will be no mixing of classes at tables in the cafeteria. In addition, there will also be a staggering dismissal schedule.
“It concerns me in different ways but in other ways, it’s good. They need socialization with their friends and to be around teachers and to have the one-on-one. However, they still don’t have everything in check to know exactly what’s going on with COVID again. So, I’m not really sure. It’s kind of half and half,” Aimee said.
The district said it will monitor conditions closely, and update protocols every three weeks. Jansen said she hopes a shutdown never happens again.
“Me personally, I don’t feel like the district needs to shutdown again fully. You give the options,” Jansen said.
The school district said no visitors or volunteers are allowed in any of the school buildings. School officials also strongly recommend all teachers and staff wear masks.