Richland Two brings students back, teachers address challenges

Richland Two successfully brings students back to the class but teachers face challenges

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - DHEC’s disease activity map shows that despite earlier drops in coronavirus spread across the Midlands, both Richland and Lexington counties are seeing high spread again. It comes as many school districts are forging ahead with their phased-in reopening plans.

One of the most recent school districts to begin in-person learning is Richland School District 2.

Richland Two’s Phase Two of reopening began on November 4, with elementary school students heading back four and a half days a week and middle and high school students heading back on an alternating hybrid schedule.

For many Richland Two teachers, heading back to the classroom has come with mixed emotions. Many teachers said they are ecstatic to be back in the classroom with their students and they feel like the district has been doing a great job with providing PPE. But some teachers are struggling with the new teaching models.

“I think teacher morale statewide is not terribly high right now, however, I think seeing students in person has been a slight boost,” Richland Two high school teacher Patrick Kelly said.

Kelly said the excitement of seeing students in person has come with some overwhelming challenges for teachers. R2 teachers are expected to teach their students in the classroom and virtually at the same time.

“I’m trying to monitor the questions coming from within the class and the questions coming from google meets,” Kelly said. “This is overwhelming and I’m a high school teacher.”

Richland Two Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis said the goal was to create as little disruption as possible in students learning.

“We decided that the dual-modality might be the best option where our teachers can stay with their students and not break that continuity,” Davis said. “We recognize that’s something that was a little different and unusual.”

Dr. Davis said safety has always been the top priority in bringing students back to the classroom.

“I spent some time going through elementary, middle, and high schools ensuring that we had the appropriate amount of PPE to provide instruction in a safe manner,” Davis said.

However, some teachers said safety and instructional challenges have caused some teachers to leave their classrooms for good.

“They have family members who have very serious health concerns,” Dr. Chris Hass, a Richland Two elementary school teacher, said. “They are now choosing between their jobs and their family’s safety, so we definitely have some people who are choosing to leave the profession.”

“We’ve had an extraordinarily high number of teachers request to remain virtual in Richland two,” Dr. Davis said.

Dr. Davis also said that the district needed some of those teachers in the classroom, which has led to some resignations.

“It’s tough,” Davis said. “I’m sometimes challenged with some of the decisions we have to make; what’s best for them, what’s best for our students, what’s best of the entire organization and the community and try to balance those four things and make the right decision.”

Dr. Davis said based on DHEC’s numbers he believes the district will stay in Phase Two for awhile. He said the district doesn’t want a situation for parents and teachers where they are changing back and forth between Phase One and Two, but are continuing to monitor the numbers and will take action if necessary.

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