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Three Lexington- Richland School District Five schools closed by board action according to reports

Ballentine, SC (Paul Kirby) 12/02/2020 - Three Lexington-Richland School District Five high schools were forced to close their buildings Tuesday and switch back to a 100% e-learning model after a large number of teachers called out leaving each of the schools short of staff. In messages posted to their Twitter account the district first explained the closings by saying this was done, “out of an abundance of caution for school safety.” This affected Chapin High, Dutch Fork High, and Irmo High.

The sudden spike in staff call outs occurred after District Superintendent Christina Melton asked the board of trustees to approve switching the schools back to the hybrid learning model for the safety of their students and staff. District Five had already transitioned their high schools back to a four day in person learning model with the fifth day designated for e-learning.

Some other area school districts continued to resist switching their high school students back to a face-to-face model saying children of that age tend to be so social. One local school official said, “It is very difficult to get high school age students to social distance and wear their masks at all times while at school. It’s almost impossible to oversee the large student bodies and have them refrain from congregating in groups during free time at school. Many of these kids have not been together in groups since last spring. Returning to school was as much a social experience for them as it was an educational one.”

Melton made her recommendation to the board as what is being called the second wave or spike of the COVID-19 virus has swept across the nation. The superintendent needed the approval of the school's board of trustees to take this step back. At their Monday, November 30th meeting, the majority of the board did not concur. Instead, some board members said that they wanted to see virus data that was more specific to their schools before making that decision.

Board Chair Jan Hammond, a public-school teacher herself, was one of the long-serving board members who voted against making that decision right now. She said during the meeting that she understood the importance of students being in school and her years of experience had taught her that this was best for the students. The majority of the board agreed with her.

District Five’s seven-member school board changed dramatically on November 3rd after three incumbents were ousted by newcomers. This current board seems more interested in asking questions and requesting further information before making decisions. The previous board was often accused of agreeing with everything recommended by the staff without question.

Many of the district’s high school teachers began calling in and requesting leave shortly after the board took the vote. Trustee Ed White, an attorney and incumbent that will face reelection in 2022, vehemently opposed the board’s decision. White told others that teachers didn’t feel safe and wanted the opportunity to switch back to the e-learning until this increase in COVID cases began to fall. It was clear he held the new board member who voted with Hammond responsible for the schools’ closures. He openly expressed his belief that there is enough scientific data already available to make the decision go back to e-learning for the safety of the students and staff.

In June, a study in The Lancet seemed to support the argument that schools remain open during the pandemic. Regarding the students’ safety it said, "COVID-19 is generally a mild disease in children, including in infants." Other later studies have backed this conclusion up. One published study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that school-aged children who get the coronavirus "develop only mild symptoms and typically recover within two weeks."

There have also been studies done about students transmitting the disease to one another or adults. One European study done in May concluded, "children do not appear to be drivers of transmission, and we argue that reopening schools should be considered safe, accompanied by certain measures." This would seem to support the fact that if teachers take universal precautions, they would be safe while instructing face-to-face.

Regarding teachers’ safety, another recent study indicates that if teachers are infected, those under the age of 50 have an approximate 99.98% probability of surviving the virus. For teachers under 70, the survivability rates drop only slightly to 99.5%. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading communicable disease expert, recently was quoted as saying, “Close the bars, keep the schools open to mitigate community spread.”


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