PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA)– Students and staff in Pickens County are gearing up for their first day of classes on Tuesday.
Officials for the School District of Pickens County said, a little more than 13,000 students were face-to-face last year. This year, they’re expecting at least 15,000 to be in-person.
The district spokesperson said there are around 550 full-time virtual students.
“Then there are high school students taking one class virtual or two classes virtual, and then coming face-to- face for other classes,” said Darian Byrd, Director of Communications and Virtual Learning for the School District of Pickens County. “We’re watching. More people are enrolling, so that is going to be a challenge, but we’re constantly monitoring and adjusting what we do to face whatever new challenges. And there will be new challenges.”
The district is asking no outside visitors until Aug. 24, and this includes parents and speakers.
“We want to be cautious and are even asking for no outside visitors (parents, assembly speakers, etc…) until Aug 24th. We need time to make sure protocols are learned by students and staff and we have everything under control,” Byrd said. “Our plan is to start three weeks a little more structured and tighter just to see how things are going, and then re-group.”
Byrd said the year will look much like last year, except masks are not required.
“For Pickens County, two words sum it up is, parents choice,” Byrd said.
The district said the decision to wear a mask is up to students and staff.
“I’m okay with not wearing a mask. It gets very hot and like very claustrophobic. And it’s just hard to hear what other people are saying, hard to do things, but I feel like we’re fine without masks, we social distance and everything,” said Brooklynn VonHollen, Senior at Easley High School.
“Classrooms are being arranged to allow spacing of student workspaces that are three feet apart or greater to the extent possible and when appropriate by age or grade level,” Byrd said. “To limit quarantines based on the DHEC definition of a close contact- – DHEC defines close contact among students in the K-12 setting as those unvaccinated students within three feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more.”
Teachers must still maintain six feet.
“We have told our staff to maintain six feet all you can,” Byrd said. “A close contact is still six feet for adults. DHEC defines close contact among adults in the K-12 setting as those unvaccinated adults within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more.”
Hand sanitizer dispensers are also throughout schools. Other safety measures and protocols are in place, even in the cafeterias.
“Instead of all eating in the classrooms every day, they are bringing in groups so that they can sit in every other seat,” Byrd said.
Students will also see signs posted around their campuses.
“Socially distancing signs, some of the reminders on the floor. We try to keep traffic moving,” Byrd said. “We are going to make every attempt to maintain a 67% capacity for buses. We are running separate routes for Elementary and then Secondary students. This is a particular challenge with a shortage of workers and drivers.”
“I won’t always have a student in every single desk, sometimes it’s spaced out further depending on the numbers,” said Danielle Serina, English Teacher and Student Council Advisor at Easley High School.
The district is still encouraging everyone to practice good hygiene and hand-washing routines. Byrd also said they want to provide as much normalcy as possible.
“We all have family and friends that are in school, and we want it to be just as normal as possible,” Byrd said.
Several students and teachers said they’re ready to start school either way.
“I’m very excited. It’s my last year, so it’s the last time to do everything. Last time to be a cheerleader, I actually had my senior banner picture today, so it’s bittersweet, but, I’m going to enjoy it,” VonHollen said.
“I’m so excited. We came back on Wednesday and all of the teachers, we’ve been collaborating and planning, going over pacing guides talking about how to really engage our students, because things were a little bit easier than they were last year,” Serina said. “As a mom, I have two kids at Forest Acres, and they are just so excited to go back. We met their teachers the other day, and I mean they were skipping down the halls with their backpacks.”