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Richland and Lexington districts reveal post-holiday school return plans

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Midlands school districts have announced their post-holiday return plans for students. File/Adam Benson/Staff 

COLUMBIA — With Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks on the horizon and COVID-19 cases spiking nationally, school districts in the capital region are issuing plans on when students will return to classrooms following the holiday recesses.

Here’s a rundown of their calendars.

Richland School District One

After launching in-person classes on a hybrid basis in late October, the roughly 18,000 students in South Carolina’s ninth largest district who opted into the model will stay on their schedules through at least Dec. 18.

“The data and information reflected on our dashboard serves as evidence that what we are doing is working,” Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said in a message to parents this week. “We know that the mitigating strategies serve to reduce the risks associated with COVID-19 for staff and students.”

The 24,000-student district brought students back to school later than many other surrounding districts, opening classrooms to pre-kindergarten through second grade students two days a week starting Oct. 26. Classes here began fully virtual on Aug. 31.

Grades 3 through 12 returned on a similar two-day- a-week schedule Nov. 5. Witherspoon said about 6,000 Richland One students will remain on a remote model throughout the year.

Richland School District Two

Classrooms districtwide will be shuttered between Tuesday, Nov. 24 and Monday, Nov. 30, returning Richland Two students to e-learning for two days before the regularly scheduled Thanksgiving holiday. On Nov. 30, pupils enrolled in the district’s hybrid model will get back behind their desks.

“The contact tracing process is complicated and time consuming. Thanksgiving break would add even more challenges to the process and possibly limit the ability of our school nurses to contact employees and students,” district officials said in a statement.

The state’s fifth largest district with 27,000 students, Richland Two opened the year virtually on Aug. 31 and classes resumed on Nov. 4 on a plan that sends pre-kindergarten through fifth graders back five days a week in “classroom communities” that keeps them clustered, while sixth through 12th graders are split into groups that sends them to school in-person on two-day rotations, with Fridays being a remote learning day for all.

Lexington-Richland School District 5

The 17,500-student district began sending children back to classrooms on Oct. 5, a month after schools opened with a mix of in-person and online learning. They’ll miss little time due to the holiday, with facilities closed between Wednesday, Nov. 25 and Friday, Nov. 27.

Superintendent Christina Melton announced plans to send students back for four days of in-person learning beginning Nov. 9, but that will jump to a full week on Feb. 1, district officials announced Nov. 16.

Melton’s decision on more days in the classroom was weeks in the making and came under a cloud of scrutiny from parents, who since the summer have protested on opposite sides of the issue — with some wanting to stay virtual until COVID-19 cases drop dramatically and others pushing for the ability to send their children to school full-time from the start.

“I want students back five days a week. I want teachers doing what they do best five days a week, but COVID-19 has changed what public education has been,” Melton said in October. “We have tried to be flexible and dynamic rather than to concede and lessen our expectations.”

Lexington School District One

About a quarter of the district’s 27,000 students are enrolled in a yearlong virtual learning academy, and officials had hoped the rest, currently on a hybrid model, could resume full-time classes by Sept. 28.

But Superintendent Greg Little said a pre-October return wasn’t possible based on COVID-19 transmission rates and public sentiment that showed eroding support for the idea. The school year began Aug. 31.

Instead he proposed ramping up to four days of in-person learning for pre-kindergarten through second grade beginning Oct. 5, with a similar format for third, fourth and fifth graders targeted for Oct. 19. All meals will be delivered to classrooms as well, officials said.

Middle school students started a four-day week on Nov. 9. The district plans to keep all students home for Thanksgiving break, with Nov. 23 and 24 reserved for e-learning.

High school students here won’t start a four-day classroom routine until Jan. 19, when the second semester begins.

Lexington School Districts, Two Three and Four

All three districts, which began classes between Aug. 17 and Sept. 8, opened with hybrid and fully virtual models, sending students into schools two days a week on staggered schedules so deep cleanings could take place before each cohort arrived.

Lexington Two schools will stay open Monday, Nov. 23 and Tuesday, Nov. 24, before resuming Monday, Nov. 30 after the Thanksgiving recess.

In Lexington Three, which serves 2,000 students in the Batesburg-Leesville area, classes began Sept. 8 with kindergartners through fifth graders going back five days from the outset.

Starting Nov. 16, Batesburg-Leesville Middle School students returned for five days of in-person instruction, with the high school implanting a weeklong return starting Jan. 19.

Lexington Four, which educates about 3,500 students, announced plans to send students back four days a week starting Nov. 16. District offices will be closed Wednesday, Nov. 25 through Friday, Nov. 27, with classes resuming Monday, Nov. 30.

Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.

Benson joined The Post and Courier's Columbia bureau in November 2019. A native of Boston, he spent three years at the Greenwood Index-Journal and has won multiple South Carolina Press Association awards for his reporting.

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