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Horse Creek Academy goes virtual with hundreds quarantined

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 9:35 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2021 at 3:37 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - The halls of Horse Creek Academy are empty this week after 72 students tested positive for COVID. Now officials at the Aiken County charter school are trying to figure out their options moving forward.

Two-thirds of the school’s students are under quarantine and all of them are learning virtually for at least the next four days, potentially longer. But because they’re a public charter school, and use state funds, they’re not allowed to mandate masks.

Dr. Anne Marie Taylor, the lead learner at Horse Creek Academy, says school officials are in a difficult position; the number of positive cases and students quarantining is overwhelming. And there is not much more the school can do because of South Carolina state mandates.

South Carolina mandates every school offers five day in-person learning. But what happens if there are not enough teachers to staff the school or students behind desks? It took Horse Creek Academy an entire day to get approval to go virtual for five days. It would need 20 substitute teachers to be fully operational next Monday.

“Last year in total, we had 49 cases schoolwide for the entire year, and we have over 70 in week three,” she said.

Horse Creek Academy says employees disinfect, keep students in pods and encourage masks.

The school uses the state’s definition of exposure where anyone 3 to 6 feet from a positive person masked or not must quarantine, unless fully vaccinated. But a lot of students are unable to get the vaccine, the school can’t require masks and small classrooms are a challenge.

“If I had to choose yes I would offer that mandate of masks,” she said.

Third-grade teacher Mrs. Birchmore is still confident in her students.

“I would much rather have my students in personal than virtual but I’m not necessarily worried because once you have that solid connection with your students you’re able to overcome any obstacle that’s thrown at you,” said Birchmore.

“So closing the doors is never an easy option it’s probably the last thing I would want to do,” said Taylor.

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