Laurens County, S.C. – Just a few weeks ago it appeared that children were heading back to a school year finally free of COVID-19 fears, but the rapid increase in cases of the Delta variant has given pause to the back-to- school excitement.
Last week it was announced that in its first three days back in school, Ware Shoals High School in District 51 quickly had to quarantine almost a quarter of its high school population when five students were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Concerns of the rising numbers of COVID cases has prompted University of South Carolina officials to again institute a mask policy, as was also recently announced.
But with state laws now leaning toward a pre-COVID normalcy, both of the county’s public school districts are set to soon reopen for the new school year with “no masks required” policies.
“We are absolutely concerned but we are not fearful because we are going to do all that we can to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak,” said District 56 Superintendent Dr. David O’Shields. “We cannot mandate the vaccine. We cannot mandate masks, though we will encourage anyone who’s more comfortable wearing masks to do so.”
O’Shields said classes will be normal as much as possible but, where space allows, students will still be spread out to provide as much social distancing as possible.
District 55 Superintendent Dr. Ameca Thomas said the district staff is excited about the new school year, although the last few weeks of COVID-19 reports have dampened the enthusiasm a little.
“It’s a tough situation because we all want things to be able to go back to normal like before COVID, but our top priority in all decisions is still safety and health and well being of our students and staff and community,” Thomas said.
Admittedly, that won’t be easy, as most of the 2,000 children who were enrolled in online classes will be returning to their respective schools this month.
“District 55 is still offering a virtual academy for students who wish, and we currently have 130 students enrolled online,” Thomas said. “We have had more calls in the past week or so and there are about 30 additional students we are reviewing.”
While the plexiglass shields were removed from desks and placed in storage at the end of the school year, the district will rein- stall them for any teachers and stu- dents who still want that option.
“We have been working hard to prepare and have everything in place,” Thomas said, “and we will definitely social distance to the extent that it is possible.”