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LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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 COVID in the classroom; Can’t we all just get our shots? 

 BEAUFORT – One year ago, Beaufort County public school students bravely went back into the classrooms with masks and a prayer as COVID cases continued to rise following the Christmas holidays. 

This year, the students returned, some with masks, some without, no school district mandate but yet prayers for the best as the Omicron virus drove infected numbers up, breaking new records for daily infections. In the first week of classes, 200-plus cases were reported with 500 quarantined in Beaufort County schools. 

Jasper County public schools, like several other districts in South Carolina, opted to go back to remote classes until later this month, largely due to staff shortages related to the virus. 

Reports have surfaced of classes being conducted without certified teachers due to district-wide shortages. One Beaufort County teacher filed a lawsuit against the district contending paychecks did not reflect the hours spent in the additional work associated with online instruction. 

This year, there’s been no substantial talk at the local level of emergency mask mandates as was the case last year, when meetings of elected officials where the topic of masks appeared on the agenda were disrupted by angry parents and citizens on both side of the issue. 

There have been waiting lines filled by individuals wishing to be tested, not so much for vaccinations, as was the case last year. 

And after all the hype, only 56.4 percent of the county’s residents are vaccinated. 


Changes at USC in Columbia may be felt in the Lowcountry 

COLUMBIA – Following up on the old saying “hang onto your hats, they’re back in session” it can certainly apply to more than the state Legislature. 

Case in point: the University Of South Carolina Board Of Trustees hired a new President last week, Michael Amiridis, who previously spent 21 years with the University, starting as a chemical engineering professor, later as Dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, and all the way to USC Provost. He’s spent the last seven years as Chancellor of the University of Illinois in Chicago.

While many may not consider the hiring of a new university president worthy of much note, when you think about the impact of the three campuses of USC Beaufort, with 2,000 students and an annual contribution of $122.4 million to the local economy, the impact of decisions made at the top level can be expected to eventually trickle down to the local level.

Thankfully, Beaufort County does have one voice on the 22-member USC trustees board – Rose Newton, wife of state Sen. Weston Newton, R-Hilton Head. But when they start talking about financial resources “up there” in Columbia, we can hope USCB, as one of eight branch campuses in the university system, gets its share.


County tries to help those falling through the cracks

BEAUFORT – County Council members in the coming weeks will be considering an ordinance which prohibits individuals from sleeping on county property, a move being considered to help those who “fall through the cracks.”

The ordinance is prompted by an effort to help an individual with mental health issues who recently set up camp on the county government complex grounds. County officials who tried to assist found themselves blocked by existing rules and regulations, situations many individuals and families of individuals with severe mental health issues have experienced.

The new ordinance, if passed, would include charges against an individual for violation which would make it easier to develop a care plan, according to a county spokesman.

It’s a sad, but realistic side of our society.


Sheriff’s NIXEL no match for social media

BEAUFORT – And speaking of falling through the cracks, that’s one way to describe a situation that occurred over the weekend in the city, which initially impacted a neighborhood but has wider implications.

A standoff situation developed Friday night/Saturday morning in the Mossy Oaks area, on Brotherhood Road. City police and members of the Sheriff’s SWAT team. An individual wanted for questioning in a Hilton Head Island sexual assault case barricaded himself in an apartment and told officers he would not come out.

The standoff continued started Friday evening, with streets closed and SWAT team members in place. But the neighbors including those who were not allowed to return to their homes, were not being told anything, according to social media comments.

Individuals who called the non-emergency dispatch line were told by an officer there was no information to share. Eventually a social media post was made by someone who’d been told “unofficially” what had occurred by a law enforcement official.

An official explanation wasn’t posted on the sheriff’s NIXLE alert communications system until 7 p.m. Saturday, well after the incident was over and the individual taken away for observation. It came with a “thank you” to the public for their cooperation.

With social media rampant as it is in today’s society, it’s hard for anyone to keep something that happens in a public place quiet, but if an agency like the sheriff’s department is paying for the service to inform the public, they need to make sure they use it.

Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/editorial assistant/columnist with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today, Beaufort Today and The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.). She can be reached at bftbay@gmail.com.

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