School districts face deadline for fall plans with some saying they need more time

School districts face deadline for fall plans with some saying they need more time

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Many school districts have been scrambling to change their plans for the fall after Governor Henry McMaster recommended on Wednesday that all school districts provide a five-day, in-person learning option for students.

By Friday afternoon, all school districts had to submit their plans for school in the fall to the Department of Education or request an extension.

McMaster stressed on Wednesday that kids need to be back in school and parents should be able to choose between full-time school or virtual learning. However, many districts had developed virtual e-learning plans or hybrid models in which students return for part of the week due to the rising cases of COVID-19 cases across the state.

A spokesperson with the Department of Education said it had plans coming in until the deadline Friday at noon, with some districts submitting new plans fitting Governor McMaster’s request for five days in person, while other districts decided to stick with hybrid models that ease into five days a week of in-person learning for any parent that wants to send their child back to school in person.

“There’s some real steps we have to take to get to five days a week. The analogy I’ve been using is when you’re learning how to swim, you don’t just jump into the deep end. When you’re learning how to ride a bike, you don’t start with the highest hill in your neighborhood,” Lexington One Superintendent Dr. Greg Little.explained. “You have to practice. You have to build up to it. That’s the safe, responsible, and measured way you should approach those things and that’s how we’ve approached starting school in the fall.”

Little said the key to bringing students back five days a week safely is practice. He said that’s why, in Lexington One, their students would be on an alternating schedule for the first month of school in which students spend half the week at school and the other half learning virtually.

Little feels that the hybrid model allows them to monitor the spread of the virus in schools and see the impact of needing to quarantine students and teachers.

“We’re going to see the impact of quarantining. We’re going to look at the impact of coronavirus in our community and how that’s impacting our school environment, and we are going to be practicing our safety protocols,” Little said.

He said the safety protocols are critical since social distancing will not be possible in a five-day schedule.

“So, you have to be good at the rest of it. You have to be really good at the rest of it to ensure a safe environment for our students and staff,” Little said.

Lexington Two and Lexington Four have also opted for a hybrid model to start the year, with virtual options available to parents. These plans differ from the plans of Kershaw County and Lexington-Richland School District Five. Both of these districts released plans that give parents the option of traditional five-day, in-person learning and e-learning.

However, not all school districts have come to a decision yet on what next fall will look like. A Department of Education spokesperson said that 35 school districts requested extensions for submitting their plans. That includes Clarendon, Fairfield, Lexington Three, Orangeburg, and Richland One.

Dr. Little said he’s confident in the school’s ability to get kids back into the classroom five days a week, but its important to take the time to get it right.

“What really we have to stay focused on is are we creating an environment that is safe for both our students and staff?” Little said, “and if we can say yes to that, and I believe when you do the big three of maximize social distancing, wear a mask, and practice proper hand sanitation, I feel very comfortable with that plan. But when we talk about coming back to school five days a week, we have to be really good at what we do because there’s so much at stake.”

Earlier this week Richland Two and Sumter school districts released plans for full virtual learning for their students to begin the year. Officials with both districts said their boards are meeting again early next week to revisit their plans after Governor McMaster made his recommendations.

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