Fairfield County unveils unique approach to reopen schools

Fairfield County unveils unique approach to reopen schools

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Reaction continued among educators Thursday after Gov. Henry McMaster recommended that all public school districts give parents the option to send their child back to the classroom five days a week.

He also urged the Department of Education to reject any proposal that did not provide that option.

Fairfield County School District intends to move forward with its unique approach.

District Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green hopes to one day soon have everyone back in the classroom. He understands the importance and value of face-to-face learning. Figuring out how to do so safely amid a pandemic is challenging.

"All the education courses I've taken over the years could not prepare me for what we are currently facing," said Green. "There wasn't a chapter called operating in the era of a pandemic."

Green spent a lot of time contemplating how to return to the classroom as the state's counties deal with a high rate of disease activity.

"Greatest fear is that we do something that is not in the best interest of the students, faculty, and staff," Green said. "We often speak about as all or nothing. Either we return to all fully in-person instruction or we remain in a virtual environment. Is there not a middle ground?"

The reopening plan he recommends to begin the new school year targets opening school doors to those most in need. Green wants to welcome back first students with a disability, limited access to the internet, or are in a specialized career program requiring hands-on experience.

"We recognize a particular group of students who have a difficult time operating in a virtual environment, for example, exceptional needs students," Green added. "Think about a parent who is asked to assist. We recognize the exceptional challenges that presents. The fact that we are only targeting specific groups of students minimizes the risk to students, faculty, and staff that would be exposed as a condition of returning."

Under that plan, these students would the first one eligible to return. They would be mandated to come back under this proposal.

The district has around 2,800 students across the nine schools. Green asked for patience from those not asked to return for face-to-face learning right away.

“I ask them to be patient with us as we work to make that happen,” Green emphasized. “We want them back as much as anyone wants them back. We recognize the value of them being in our buildings and all of the things we provide them each and every day.”

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If the board approves this plan on July 28, the district will assess and identify which students should return for in-person instruction.

"We hope we get to the point in this pandemic where we start to improve, and we can have all of the young people report for in-person instruction," said Green.

The closer they get to the start date, the district will engage in more dialogue with faculty and staff about individual underlying health conditions and health concerns related to returning in-person amid a pandemic.

Fairfield County Schools are tentatively scheduled to begin on August 24. Dr. Green added the district ordered several hundred hotspots. Despite these efforts, some students still lack resources to continue virtually. This is why he wants to select students most in need to return to the classroom.

Green has no intention to draft a new proposal based on the governor's strong suggestion. Now, if the plan he submits is rejected by the school board or department of education, the district will take the necessary steps.

For now, the district is keeping its focus on educating its children and keeping everyone involved safe.

In all, there are four different proposals under consideration by the district. Green would like to begin the school year by bringing back students with the specific needs previously mentioned above.

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