School opening plans unveiled as virus doubts linger

Most parents and guardians in Lexington County School District Three have doubts about whether to send their children to school this fall if there is not a major break in the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

That finding is according to a survey now being used to develop a proposed reopening plan for the district’s schools.

District staff and educators laid out the results of the survey and the proposed first draft of the reopening plan at Tuesday’s special called meeting of the Lexington Three School Board. The deadline for submitting a formal plan to the South Carolina Department of Education for its approval is today (Friday).

“We really don’t know what the future holds,” said Dr. Ashley Atkinson as the reopening ideas were unfolded for the Board’s inspection. “The state may close us down again at some point in time, and we want to make sure that if that does occur, we have seamless instruction that carries on.”

The proposed plan was based in part on a survey sent out to all district parents and guardians in late June and completed by about 440 respondents. Of those who completed the survey, about 14.6 percent were also employees of Lexington Three who have at least one child enrolled in the district.

Most of those who completed the survey were parents of students at either Batesburg-Leesville Primary School or Batesburg-Leesville Elementary. In the query, they were asked if a vaccine for COVID-19 was not widely available by next month, would they still allow their children to return to in-person instruction at one of the area schools?

More than 43 percent said they were unsure whether they would send their kids back to class in the school setting if the virus is still raging next month. Nearly 19 percent said they would certainly keep their children home from school if a vaccine was not readily available, while 37.7 said they would trust the system to teach their children without access to a readily available vaccine.

Meanwhile, 94.6 percent said they would allow their children to once again participate in electronic learning at home. When Gov. Henry McMaster closed schools in mid-March because of the coronavirus spread, students and teachers quickly reverted to an emergency e-learning strategy.

Students never returned to collective classroom instruction before the academic year ended last month.

Another survey question asked parents whether they would allow their child to ride the school bus if no vaccine was available. More than 43 percent said they would not, while 36.7 percent still were uncertain about trusting bus transportation without having access to a COVID-19 treatment.

With those results in hand, District staff proposed giving parents a choice of either a fully virtual instruction program – nicknamed the VIP program – or a hybrid of both virtual and in-person classroom time for the 2020-21 school year.

“We’re going to have to get really, really creative with our schedule, our flexibility,” said Matthew Velasquez, Principal at Batesburg-Leesville Elementary.

At the high school and middle school levels, students who choose the hybrid model would receive two days of instruction in the school environment while doing three days of e-learning at home. Students attending those two days at school would be divided into classes that meet either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday to limit class sizes and allow for social distancing within the classrooms.

“We are still going to have at the high school four blocks a day, divided by the time available,” said Sonya Bryant, Principal at BLHS. “At the middle school, we’re going to have four content classes, and we’re going to do related arts. That is too important to not do. We’re still going to have AP (advanced placement) classes. We’re going to have career and technology classes, and we’re going to have dual enrollment.”

At least 120 students at the high school are enrolled in at least two dual enrollment classes in which they receive college credit for their high school work, she proudly announced.

“We absolutely will not lose ground where we have pushed our kids and gotten them this far,” Mrs. Bryant said.

One major change for the coming year is that the school year is expected to start later officially, even though the state’s reopening plan calls for the district to offer five days in mid-August called LEAP Days. Those five days, which will not be mandatory for students, will give teachers and district staff the opportunity to share learning, evaluate students, analyze their findings and prepare students for the return to classes.

“We need to reconnect with them,” said Angie Rye, the district’s Chief Academic Officer. “Social and emotional reconnection.”

These LEAP days, now planned for Aug. 10-14 for kindergarten through 8th grade students, are designed to bring students back up to speed and ready for classroom instruction again after the final three months of the 2019-2020 school year were spent at home, doing emergency electronic learning.

The first official week of school now will be Aug. 31-Sept. 4, with staggered days of attendance for primary and elementary school students, according to the plan revealed Tuesday.

Until the reopening plan is approved by the state, the district will hold off on announcing registration days for the upcoming school year.

For more information on the reopening plans and the revised calendar approved by the local school board, check out the Lexington Three website.