What to expect upcoming school year, Laurens County School District 55 weighing handful of options


LAURENS COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Another upstate school district left with a tough decision, bring students back in the classroom for the upcoming school year or keep them learning online. Leaders with Laurens County School District 55 are weighing their options now.

A survey was sent out to parents and staff, looking for feedback on the upcoming school year. The majority of those who responded want a normal face-to-face schedule with e-learning running a close second.

A Laurens County high school getting more visitors than it has seen in recent months. But it’s not for the reason you think.

7 News: “What are they doing here today?”

“Football,” said Laurens County Mom, Calvanetta Ray

Both Calvanetta Ray and Nicole Richard have sons who are getting their physicals. Even though they still have quite a bit of summer to enjoy before their kids head back to school, they’re thinking ahead.

“I rather do online,” Ray said.

“Its kind of gotten bad around here. I just feel if it gets in one room, one person gets it, it’s going to spread like wildfire,” said Laurens County Mom, Nicole Richard.

They’re concerned about their kids going back to the classroom come fall.

Other parents are ready.

“I would really like to see them come back and enjoy their school time, I think that’s very important for children,” said Laurens County Dad, David Kitzmiller.

But the assistant superintendent of the district told us neither of these options are completely off the table.

“Some of those are looking at doing a virtual academy for our students to have that as an option. We’re also looking at an A.M./P.M. option, and all the different hybrids we’re exploring,” said Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Services with Laurens County School District 55, Jody Penland.

He told 7 News they’re taking in feedback from state health leaders daily about the best options and practicing what that will look like in the classrooms and on the bus.

“We also have to look at the size of each of our classrooms. We have some very old schools so some of those classrooms are a little bit smaller than the new constructions we have,” Penland told us.

And as parents wait to hear what’s in store for their kids, people like this dad told 7 News, the best option really depends on the student.

“Each child has their own learning preferences,” Kitzmiller said.

A local task force with the school district will be meeting on July 7th to talk about the logistics behind each plan. School board members are expected to make a decision in the following days.

You can find additional information that was sent in a press release from the district, below:

“Laurens County School District #55 (LCSD 55) has been preparing for a return to school in the fall of 2020. The recent release of the AccelerateED Task Force (AETF): Guidance and Recommendations for the 2020-21 School Year highlights the complexity of the multi-layered decision-making process. According to LCSD 55 Superintendent, Dr. Ameca Thomas, “All decisions for re-entry will be made with the safety and well-being of students and staff at the forefront.”

Phase one recommendations from the AETF include the creation of a local task force for planning the opening of schools. This is already in place for LCSD 55 and its purpose is to be the hub for big-picture, pandemic related, school re-entry planning. Thomas says, “We are looking into the best ways to continue educating our children while also following proper safety protocols.” Another phase one step is an early survey of parent/family/staff preferences, which LCSD 55 has completed. The results of the survey show a wide range of preferences. A normal 5-day per week face-to-face schedule was preferred by only 23.6% of survey respondents. Another 17.5% indicated they favored all e-learning with no face-to-face interaction. When considering alternative schedules, 16.5% recommended staggered days and another 8.8% recommended staggered morning/afternoon schedules to minimize the number of students on campus at any given time. Another 6.2% of respondents indicated a preference for a start date after Labor Day with a normal 5-day week. These are the top five responses to the survey. The balance of the responses were spread across multiple options (a cumulative total of 27.4%). Finally, results of the survey also indicate that some families are planning to keep their children at home. The district is working on a Virtual Academy option to serve these children.

The local task force is looking for answers to key questions such as what measures are health experts recommending for minimizing the risk of infection and what are the latest guidelines from federal, state, and local governments? Of course, the AETF, in its report, has provided a menu of options for school districts to consider. These include the review of school calendars, the development of distance learning contingency plans, daily health reporting, cleaning protocols, classroom/facility reconfiguration for social distancing, and preparing to meet the social-emotional needs of students.

The LCSD 55 COVID-19 Task Force will meet again on July 7, 2020 to discuss both structure and logistics and program delivery models for curriculum and instruction (including both academic and social-emotional learning). Thomas is committed to keeping families and staff in the loop, saying, “We hope to have final plans in place by mid-July. We ask our constituents to please be patient as COVID-19 remains a fluid situation.”

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