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Richland One schools to remain all virtual through the end of January

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Witherspoon 2

Richland School District One superintendent Craig Witherspoon chats with Edward E. Taylor Elementary Principal Debbie Hunter on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, during a tour of the Columbia school. Adam Benson/Staff 

COLUMBIA — Students in South Carolina's ninth largest school district will remain on a fully virtual schedule through late January as officials continue to fret over rising COVID-19 rates.

Richland One Superintendent Craig Witherspoon announced the decision to extend online learning through at least Jan. 29 was driven by disease transmission rates and staff shortages that already existed prior to the winter recess.

Initially, district leaders hoped to resume a mix of in-person and online classes by Jan. 19.

"We do not want to create a situation in which a series of schools may open only to have to close due to staffing concerns due to COVID-19 positivity rates, isolation and quarantine protocols. We want to maintain as much consistency as possible in a particular learning modality," Witherspoon said in his statement.

Lengthening the district's e-learning option gives officials a chance assess vaccination protocols for teachers and other staff as well, the superintendent said. 

As of Jan. 11, the 24,000-student district has logged 267 coronavirus cases since the start of the academic year. Currently, 18 students and 17 employees have active cases. 

"That last week of December, we were concerned about staffing availability at a lot of schools," Witherspoon told district commissioners on Tuesday. "It did get to some critical levels, and we wanted to as much as possible look at consistency with that."

Meanwhile, Richland District Two remains on track to partially reopen schools on Jan. 19. 

Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.

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