PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA)–School-wide face-to-face instruction will begin Monday, August 10 for all School District of Pickens County (SDPC) students. Parents or guardians will have a choice to allow students to attend school in-person or to participate in the online SDPC Virtual Academy.
The district will start with an unique schedule, during the pandemic. Instead of releasing a yearly schedule, they have released six-week schedules that will contain both face-to-face and online instruction.
“We’ll do two weeks of face-to-face instruction for everyone who is not enrolled in the Virtual Academy. And then the third week, we will have face-to-face instruction for K-2nd grade, with other students doing Virtual Instruction.,” said John Eby, Coordinator of Communication, School District of Pickens County.
The fourth week, everyone will operate under e-learning, with no students in school. However, they will return back to face-to-face instruction for the fifth and sixth weeks.
In a letter to parents, Pickens County Superintendent Danny Merck said, “To protect our students and to make sure we have a healthy workforce, these schedules will be updated periodically as we continue to monitor community outbreaks of the virus. After the first two weeks of school, we expect to alter our daily routines in every school to provide an even safer environment as we monitor daily the safety and well-being of all students and employees.”
“We’re going to kind of look at week increments, what our plan is going to be as we go throughout the year. And hopefully we go back to as much face to face instruction, as possible,” Eby said.
Danielle Ward, a substitute bus driver, said she doesn’t agree with the plan.
“Seeing how full a lot of these buses can be at times, I just don’t know how we’re going to safely being able to transport all the kids,” Ward said.
“We’re going to follow DHEC’s recommendations for buses, which is going to be a limit of the number of students on the bus. That limit is 34 students for middle and high school, 39 students for elementary,” Eby said.
“We already started reworking our bus routes, so we can limit the number of students on any buses, and our drivers will be required to wear masks,” Eby added.
All staff are required to wear masks. The district said water fountains won’t be available, and they will have other safety precautions in place.
“We’ll have a mask requirement for staff. Masks won’t be required, but will be strongly encouraged for students, especially during class transitions,” Eby said.
They will also limit the number of interactions by having high schools on a 4 X 4 block schedule. Smaller children will also have a new plan.
“The younger students will pretty much spend their whole day with the students in their class. They won’t be sharing the cafeteria space with other students,” Eby said.
“My kids aren’t going back to school this year,” Ward said.
“I want to go back into it, but at the same time, I don’t want to get sick,” said Louavenia Benson, a high school student.
Eby said there are concerns about COVID-19, but they’re also concerned about isolation and students being at home. One middle school student said she’s a little nervous with COVID-19, but ready to go back to school.
“By sitting in front of a TV, it’s making our brains mushy,” said Arminda Trudeau. “I want to meet my teachers,” she said. ” I want to go back because I want to make new friends.”
As the district monitors the virus while on six week schedules, they want to provide as much in-person instruction, and keep kids safe.
“There are certainly concerns about safety in terms of COVID-19, but there’s also concerns about safety in terms of isolation and students being at home and not being able to come to school,” Eby said.
“I just wish they would shut down school until it’s done. And then we can go from there,” Benson said. “Better safe then sorry,” she added.
Any parent can choose to enroll their student in the Pickens County Virtual Academy. The registration starts on Monday, July 13 and will end on Friday, July 17.
The district said the decision was made after a series of parent surveys, research, focus groups, and conference calls. A letter to parents also said they had a thought exchange that involved hundreds of parents, staff, members, students, and community members.
SDPC has identified students in Special Programs and students in Early Childhood (3K – 2nd Grade) to be the highest priority for in-person face-to-face instruction. They will provide face-to-face
instruction to these groups at times when other student groups are being taught through Intermittent Virtual or SDPC Virtual Academy.
Students targeted in the Special Programs group will be notified directly by District Leadership by Special Services department.
Within any six- week window, a school or grade level may revert to virtual online learning if the well-being of students or employees is compromised.
Based on data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and Governor
McMaster be advised that the first six-week schedule may change prior to the scheduled start of school and force schools to implement eLearning rather than face-to-face instruction on opening day August 10.
The district will attempt to provide as much in person instruction as possible during each six-week schedule, however, the flu season combined with the Covid-19 pandemic may result in more eLearning. Furthermore, if the county continues to receive a high spread rating from DHEC, then it is likely schools will continue with the same six week schedule as the first six weeks.
Individual schools will begin communicating with parents during the week of July 13 with more specific information about the upcoming year.
To read more about the decision, and the upcoming school year, click here