COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to public charter schools or private schools in South Carolina.
These institutions will make individual decisions on when and how to reopen.
Clear Dot Charter Principal, Dr. Lindsey Ott, intends to begin the new academic year on August 19th. She tells me reopening amid a pandemic is terrifying. However, the successful implementation of safety measures during in-person summer instruction provides comfort that Clear Dot is on the right track.
"Makes me more comfortable with it," said Ott. "It's also given us more time to practice that distancing and practice sanitation methods. Start getting into the habits we need to be in to keep the environment safe here."
And Clear Dot has been the model of safe, so far.
Summer school started June 22nd, and no positive COVID-19 cases have been reported since. To keep it that way, Dr. Ott lays out three options for all 250 students, K thru seventh grade, to resume learning.
She’s excited about the Remote Live Instruction option. It features new technology with large screen displays in the classroom, and a camera focused on the teacher. So, as the teacher instructs those students in the class, ones at home can video conference in and feel part of the experience.
"Getting the same instruction from their teacher as if they were physically sitting in front of them," said Ott.
Other safety measures include temperature checks when entering the building. Also, reducing the number of students in the building at a time, while limiting class sizes to ten students. Face coverings will be required when moving about the school, but not while kids are seated at their desks.
"It seems to be extremely important to my families to establish some normalcy for our school," Ott added. "So, if it were recommended not to come back in person... we can still do the Remote Live Instruction. But, I am going to attempt to get my students back in the building."
Clear Dot has worked with their teachers on how to resume in-person instruction safely. Ensuring it remains safe inside the school walls weighs heavy on her heart.
“It’s terrifying,” exclaimed Ott. “I wish someone out there could just tell me this is what you need to do.”
Clear Dot Charter is one of 22 member institutions with Charter Institute at Erskine. Although she says it’s frightening mapping out reopen plans, she mentions guidance from Erskine, DHEC, and the state helps with decision making.
Let’s turn the attention to SCISA schools. Executive Director Spencer Jordan says if a teacher does not feel comfortable teaching in person on the South Carolina Independent School Association level, a virtual teaching option should be made available, or the school should allow for a leave of absence.
Jordan tells WIS it’s essential to get children back to normalcy as much as possible.
Each of the 125 SCISA institutions will assess their risk level with the reopening. Jordan adds that SCISA provides information from DHEC and the CDC to help in the decision-making process.
“Urge our schools to do it as safely as we possibly can,” said Jordan. ”Understanding the mitigation of what we have to do, as far as where we are with this contagion in our youth and our school communities.”
With the recent news of a child under five in our state dying from the virus, it puts a greater emphasis on taking proper precautions inside the school walls.
"Sorrowing and humbling experience as a leader, but I think we must think of alternative ways we can move forward," Ott added.
SCISA keeps all 125 member schools up to date with the latest COVID-19 data and trends. Jordan anticipates 90 to 95 percent of schools to return to some level of in-person education by late August or early September. He adds the decision to do so will not be made lightly.
“It’s a scary decision,” Ott said. “I make no bones about that.”
He adds all members recognize the necessity to use PPEs, educating all involved in the proper safety protocols and procedures to implement.
"Take the best measures possible, so we can open schools progressively and ensure school, faculty, and staff safety," Ott continued.
Jordan adds the average SCISA school student population is between 150-200, which provides a different road map back to the classroom for each institution.
"Classroom sizes being smaller, mitigating type of situations because of that, it will not exactly be the same of what you have to do with a public sector, with a much later constituent," Ott said."
Jordan adds some SCISA schools are requiring mandatory testing before students or faculty and staff members return. He says, as schools develop their return to school plan, testing will be a significant consideration in this process.