Richland Two expects to begin school virtually, adjust as coronavirus cases come down

The plan isn’t final just yet, but officials are getting prepared.
Updated: Jul. 15, 2020 at 8:17 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina school districts are beginning to finalize reopening plans.

Richland School District Two has a detailed draft of those plans online right now.

The plan isn’t final just yet, but officials are getting prepared.

“We’d all love for our children to be back day one,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. James Ann Sheley said. “But our plan right now, if our numbers stay the way they are, is that we would all start back virtually.”

There are three different reopening phases, which are all based on COVID-19 infection rates.

The plan is not yet finalized, but this is what it could look like.
The plan is not yet finalized, but this is what it could look like.(Richland Two)

Phase One applies as long as Richland County continues to see a high level of cases.

While this first phase means all students will take part in eLearning, Dr. Sheley says this will not resemble the eLearning process seen this past spring.

She says this time around, teachers will be much better prepared. There will be mandatory attendance, class schedules and uniform grading policies.

Once Richland County reaches a medium level of infections rates, the district will then move to Phase Two.

For elementary students, this will mean returning to in-person learning five days a week, organized in what are called Classroom Communities.

This means students will be put into small groups, and stay with those groups throughout the school day – even for lunch. Students will remain mostly in the same space to make it easier to contact trace if there’s an outbreak.

“We can’t do that in middle and high school,” Sheley explained. “Middle and high school change classes. Some of our students change six to seven times a day. So, we cannot keep the same children together in middle and high. Therefore, we’re intermingling a lot, and tracking and keeping up with who’s had contact with who – we couldn’t do it. So, for safety reasons, we have come up with a AA/BB schedule for middle and high.”

Phase Two for middle and high school students will include a hybrid of eLearning and in-person instruction. Those students will report to school two days a week (Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday) and also take part in eLearning three days a week.

These reopening plans are being developed based on guidelines from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the AccelerateEd Task Force.

School leaders are also taking into account some of the feedback they’ve received from students, parents and staff after sending out surveys earlier this month.

Results show while students are split on going back, most parents and staff members feel uncomfortable with returning to in-person instruction.

Taking a look at the darker blue bars, one can see more than 70% of staff members who participated in this survey are not on board with schools reopening.

Richland Two surveyed students, parents and staff on their feelings about reopening schools.
Richland Two surveyed students, parents and staff on their feelings about reopening schools.(Richland Two)

Once students and staff are able to return to in-person instruction, Sheley says school will look different than in the past.

Plus, students and staff should expect to wear masks.

“You will see fewer desks. We have had the opportunity to work with some architects who just finished a study of how many students should fit in any given space in our schools. So, you would see fewer children in classrooms,” Sheley explained. “You would also see spaces that aren’t normally used for classrooms as classrooms. If we do have cases that pop up -- our safety team is working on that document right now, clear guidelines about what to do when that happens.”

The district has no clear guidelines just yet on what happens if there’s an outbreak inside the schools, but again, none of these reopening plans are final.

Sheley says they hope to present a final plan at next week’s school board meeting on Tuesday, July 21.

Even after Gov. Henry McMaster said he wants to see schools allow students to go back to school five days a week at the start of the school year, Sheley is sticking with this proposed plan.

As for school buses, leaders are considering allowing 50% capacity. However, they said a practice run recently for a 40-minute route took two hours.

Much of this is still a work in progress and Sheley says families will need to be flexible and patient.

Even as the district moves past Phase One, all students will have the option to continue with eLearning.

School is scheduled to begin August 19 for Richland School District Two.

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