Some teachers are concerned about health risks in the classroom as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

IRMO, S.C. — Three high schools in Lexington-Richland School District Five were closed on Tuesday after a high volume of staff leave requests came in on Tuesday morning.

The school board met Monday night to discuss returning to a hybrid model after recently going to face-to-face instruction four days a week.

Some staff members were concerned, with coronavirus cases increasing over the past month, that face-to-face instruction could be a health risk.

On Tuesday, the school district made the decision to close Chapin, Irmo and Dutch Fork High Schools. Students instead participating in e-learning.

Officials with Lexington-Richland School District Five talked about Tuesday’s closure in a statement, saying:

“After receiving a high volume of staff leave requests beyond COVID-19-related leave, the district made the decision to close Chapin High School, Dutch Fork High School and Irmo High School on Tuesday. Despite several contingency plans, including but not limited to utilizing substitutes and staff, we could not provide the staffing needed to ensure normal school operations on that date. Our focus is always on our students and their safety. It was out of an abundance of caution that we made the decision to close schools.”

Sarah Gams is currently South Carolina’s Teacher of the Year. She did work at Spring Hill High School and, before that, at Chapin Middle School.

“Schools and teachers and students in general are facing the challenge of how do we educate our students, how do we continue in learning, how do we continue the academics while keeping us all safe,” Gams said. “That is the key here because we want to move forward in learning, we want to move forward in academic study, but we cannot do that unless we are physically safe and socially and emotionally healthy.”

Gams says if there are too many adult certified teachers who are sick or are in quarantine, a school can no longer safely serve the students due to the lack of number of people who will be able to take care of students in the event of an emergency.

Another issue Gams believes schools are facing the high demand for substitute teachers but lack of supply.

The state teacher of the year says while people would like to get back to the normal five-day, in-person schedule, she thinks sometimes you have to take a step back for safety reasons.

“It’s harder to teach hybrid. It’s harder to teach virtual,” explained Gams. “I don’t know a teacher who wouldn’t love to come back face-to-face. We miss our kids. We need them, they need us. But we have a responsibility to our students to first keep them safe. We can always catch them up, but we cannot bring them back.”

RELATED: 3 Lexington-Richland 5 high schools close Tuesday due to staff shortage

Many parents have said they want their children in school because their kids learn better and also because parents have to be at work.

Gams says she understands their concern but believes the health of students, staff and the community needs to be prioritized.

“We are focused on education. We are focused on our careers, but we’re also focused on survival and on the health of our community,” Gams said.

Gams went onto say, “When school boards specifically do not listen to the expertise and the wisdom of highly respected, highly trained educational professionals and they are given a well-reasoned, well-intentioned, thorough plan to keep everybody safe until Christmas, the school board has a responsibility to listen to the researcher, to listen to the facts, to accept the reality of the safety protocols in the buildings, and (Monday) night that did not happen. A failure to act is a failure to protect, and last night, a vote to adjourn was a failure to act.”

While Gams says she understands being a school board member can be a thankless job and they’re put in tough positions, she believes the right decision needs to be made for the safety of students, staff and the community.

“We need the community support, we need the understanding from the parents,” Gams said. “We need the school boards to listen to the science, to listen to the recommendations of the educational professionals and to do what is right, even when what is right is hard and even when what is right is not what is preferred, even when what is right might not get you re-elected. There’s a point where safety has to trump everything else and when the experts are saying it’s not safe, it’s not safe.”

On Wednesday, the school board will have a special-called meeting at the district office starting at 4 p.m. where they will be discussing an update with the reentry plan for Phase IV. They plan on live streaming the meeting. You can find the link here.

RELATED: Midlands teachers are resigning due to COVID-19 concerns

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