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S.C. working to help rural students connect; buses with Wi-Fi will be placed throughout region

The S.C. Department of Education and local school districts are working together to give students Wi-Fi access.

All schools have ceased on-campus activities and converted to an online learning format because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many students in school districts across the state live in rural counties where broadband internet is unavailable.

To meet these rural students’ needs, S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman announced that 3,000 buses in the state department’s fleet will be available to serve as Wi-Fi hotspots to give students internet access so they may complete online coursework.

“We’ve had buses equipped with Wi-Fi for quite some time. Different districts have used them in various capacities, but in terms of actually parking them and using them this way, yes, this will be the first time,” S.C. Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown said.

“All of the buses that we’ve ordered since 2015 have the hardware for Wi-Fi. They also have GPS tracking and air conditioning, pretty much everything. It’s kind of the industry standard now,” Brown said.

Brown stated that nearly 500 buses have been requested statewide.

Orangeburg County, Calhoun County and Bamberg County District 2 have requested buses.

“So, Bamberg 2 has requested five buses, Calhoun has requested seven buses and Orangeburg has requested 10 buses,” Brown said.

Brown said the buses will be parked at various locations around the school districts.

“Because of the social distancing, they won’t be on the bus. But, it’ll be similar to a Starbucks or McDonalds where if you’re within a certain distance you’ll have connectivity. If they have a car, they could drive up, if they could ride their bike, they could walk, it just depends on locations,” Brown said.

“Locations are actually submitted by the districts themselves. They’ve chosen those locations that are in areas of need,” Brown said.

Dr. Steve Wilson, superintendent of the Calhoun County School District, said that the district’s buses are currently being equipped with Wi-Fi to serve as hotspots.

Once that is complete, the buses will be placed across the county, he said.

“We’ll disperse these buses in strategic locations such that everybody or families who don’t have Wi-Fi will be able to access from the location of these buses,” Wilson said.

“Once that happens, we’ll blitz out the information to all families,” Wilson said.

Dr. Thelma Sojourner, Bamberg District 2 superintendent, said that all of the district’s buses are currently in use.

“We’re using all of our buses with our drivers to deliver all of our food, ... so for now we’re going to stay with Google Classroom using the internet,” she said.

“We’re still deciding if we’re going to have the opportunity to take our buses and park them in the community because right now all of our buses are extremely busy,” Sojourner said.

Sojourner noted that the district’s high school students can check out personal Wi-Fi hotspots to ensure internet access.

Sojourner also noted that information regarding the buses serving as hot spots will be delivered to students and their families.

Interim Orangeburg County School District Superintendent Dr. Darrell Johnson could not be reached for comment.

breaking top story
One more case of coronavirus in Orangeburg County

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is investigating 82 additional cases of coronavirus, including one from Orangeburg County.

Orangeburg County has a total of nine positive cases.

Calhoun County has one positive case. Bamberg County has none.

The total number of cases statewide is 424 in 39 counties.

SCDHEC projects South Carolina could reach 2,657 cumulative cases by April 2 and 8,053 cases by May 2. Projected data is estimated and may change significantly due to various factors.

“As the number of cases in the state significantly increases, the method for controlling the disease spread changes from in-depth investigations of every individual case to community strategies,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC physician consultant. “Residents should not expect individual notification that they were exposed to a case, rather everyone should practice social distancing, stay home and stay away from other people if they’re sick, and wash their hands frequently with soap and water.”

New positive cases include:

• Abbeville County: 2 cases

• Anderson County: 3 cases

• Beaufort County: 4 cases

• Berkeley County: 1 case

• Charleston County: 16 cases

• Chesterfield County: 2 cases

• Dorchester County: 1 case

• Fairfield County: 1 case

• Greenville County: 11 cases

• Horry County: 1 case

• Kershaw County: 5 cases

• Marion County: 1 case

• Orangeburg County: 1 case

• Pickens County: 5 cases

• Richland County: 14 cases

• Spartanburg County: 5 cases

• Sumter County: 2 cases

• Union County: 1 case

• Williamsburg County: 1 case

• York County: 7 cases

Individuals with signs of illness should stay at home and not attend public gatherings.

South Carolinians are encouraged to monitor for symptoms, practice social distancing, avoid touching frequently touched item and regularly wash their hands, especially after being in a public place.

Anyone with concerns about their health should reach out to their healthcare provider or use the telehealth services provided by several health care systems. For telehealth options and the latest information about DHEC’s COVID-19 response efforts, visit scdhec.gov/COVID-19. Visit scdmh.net for stress, anxiety and mental health resources from the S.C. Department of Mental Health.

breaking top story
Search suspended for crash victims; airplane left Orangeburg, found in N.C.

A plane that flew out of Orangeburg Municipal Airport on Monday evening crashed off the North Carolina coast.

Coast Guard personnel searched several hundred square miles over air, sea and land before suspending their search Tuesday night for the two people on the plane, according to news reports.

The airplane took off from Orangeburg bound for Beaufort at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Coast Guard Sector North Carolina watchstanders were initially notified by Air Traffic Control Cherry Point that the aircraft dropped from the radar at about 11 p.m. Monday.

It dropped from the radar 12 miles southeast of Bogue Inlet, according to CBS 17 out of Raleigh, N.C. Bogue Inlet is off of Emerald Isle.

The Coast Guard deployed a helicopter from Elizabeth City, a C-130 Hercules airplane from Elizabeth City, a 45-foot response boat from Emerald Isle and Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter Nathan Bruckenthal to search for the missing plane and its passengers.

A spokesperson for the Coast Guard said searchers identified a debris field they believe was from a Cessna aircraft, according to Morehead City, N.C.-based Carolina Coast Online.

The Coast Guard announced around 9:15 p.m. Tuesday that they had suspended the search.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the cause of the incident.

The names of the passengers have not been officially released.

breaking top story
Holly Hill shooting victim identified

The 18-year-old who was apparently shot to death on Monday night has been identified as Riquez Jayonte Williams of Pratt Street, Holly Hill, Orangeburg County Coroner Samuetta Marshall said.

Marshall said an autopsy is scheduled for Friday. She will determine the cause and manner of death after the autopsy is complete.

Williams graduated from Lake Marion High School in 2019, according to Orangeburg County School District spokesman Dr. Jesse Washington.

The Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate Williams’ death.

A concerned citizen called 911 around 9:24 p.m. Monday to report Williams was unresponsive in the driver’s seat of a vehicle parked on Rush Street, just outside Holly Hill, according to a sheriff’s office incident report.

The concerned citizen said the vehicle came down Rush Street from the railroad tracks.

Investigators located a spend shell casing near the 1300 block.

A wrecker towed a gray Chevrolet Impala bearing paper tags to the county’s crime scene lab.

Officers from the Eutawville and Holly Hill police departments assisted at the scene.

If anyone has information about the incident, they are asked to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. Callers don’t have to give their names.