Schools in Charleston County are gearing up to welcome students back to the classroom for full-time, in-person instruction this fall.
Charleston County School District is planning to welcome as many students as it can back for traditional, face-to-face learning for the 2020-21 school year, according to a proposed reopening plan released Wednesday afternoon.
In order to do this successfully, the district is recommending that the first day of school for students be delayed until Sept. 8, more than three weeks later than the previously scheduled start date, in order to allow COVID-19 activity in the area to slow.
The proposed plan for fall reopening and the adjustments to the academic calendar will need to get school board approval on Monday before becoming official.
The district released its draft of fall reopening plans hours after Gov. Henry McMaster called on public schools to offer face-to-face learning, a request that received swift pushback from teachers, state education groups and lawmakers.
Frustrated by a so-called lack of transparency and the climbing number of COVID-19 cases, more than 350 Charleston County educators signed a petition earlier this week asking the district to implement an online-only model for the first nine weeks of school.
Even when schools do reopen, some CCSD students might not have the option to return to school for face-to-face instruction five days a week, according to the plan.
Recommended social distancing requirements, school bus availability and building capacity all limit the number of students any given building will be able to accommodate when they eventually reopen.
CCSD will follow guidance laid out by the S.C. Department of Education task force that school buses should operate with no more than 50 percent capacity when transporting students.
"The number of students needing bus transportation may be a limiting factor in the number of students that can attend an individual school," the proposal read.
The district estimates that around 50 percent of its 80 or so schools will be able to bring all students back to school for full-time, in-person learning using additional safety protocols.
The remaining schools will be able to bring back anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of its students back full time, depending on the school building.
Those schools that can't safely bring all students back full time will use an alternating schedule, or hybrid approach, where students spend some days learning in the classroom and other days completing assignments virtually.
"Basically, those students would attend school on an alternating AA-BB schedule," the proposal reads. "Students would attend in-person two days a week and work at home three days a week."
One group of students would attend in-person class on Mondays and Tuesdays. A second group would attend on Thursdays and Fridays. After the first month, Wednesdays will be converted to an in-person instruction day.
Teachers will be responsible for both in-school and at-home assignments. Student attendance will be taken every day, whether they're in the classroom or working at home.
The district is working to ensure all students have reliable internet access via partnerships with local providers and the state's education agency.
All K-12 students, for whatever reason, can opt to enroll in the district's virtual academy option if they do not feel comfortable returning to in-person classes.
For those that feel comfortable returning to the classroom, students and teachers will be expected to wear a mask or face covering whenever 6 feet of social distancing cannot be followed.
Students will be also expected to wear a mask on the bus and when entering or moving around the building and their classroom.
Under the proposed plan, students will eat "grab-and-go" style meals in their classroom to avoid large groups congregating in cafeterias.
Bathrooms and other high-touch surfaces will be cleaned twice a day, and buildings will be disinfected using fogging machines once a week. Water fountains will be disabled but additional water bottle filling stations will be installed in schools that do not have them.
Hand sanitizer will be available in all classrooms, and HVAC systems will be updated and repaired.
It will be "highly recommended" that all teachers get tested for COVID-19 before they return to work.
According to Wednesday's plan, the district has established protocols for contact tracing if a student or teacher tests positive for the virus "to determine necessary quarantining and facility cleaning." District spokesman Andy Pruitt said the protocol will "align with DHEC guidelines, health care professionals' recommendations, and the law." Once finalized, the district will share those plans directly with the public, he said.
In the event that COVID-19 cases "become even more widespread," the district will consult local and state health officials to determine if the district needs to halt in-person instruction.