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Back-to-school questions? Here’s what you need to know in Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester

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A social distancing sign is seen outside of Northwoods Middle School on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020 in North Charleston. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

The first day of school is just around the corner for Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester students.

Some children will don masks and return to schools for face-to-face instruction while others will access their classes from behind a computer screen.

As families prepare for classes to begin, parents will inevitably have questions.

After all, back-to-school season is traditionally a hectic and confusing time, but preparing to send your child back to the classroom in a pandemic is exponentially more challenging.

Below is a guide to some of the key changes happening this school year, broken down by district, to make your back-to-school preparations as easy as possible.

Charleston County School District

Classes start Tuesday

An estimated 12,500 students, or around 25 percent districtwide, will return to classrooms for the first day of school. The remainder will start the year online, whether via a so-called "temporary remote" option or through the district’s long-term virtual academy.

But not all students who wanted in-instruction on the first day had their requests granted.

The number of students a school can safely host for face-to-face learning depends on a handful of different factors, including the building size, total student enrollment and the availability of educators who were willing to teach in person.

Of CCSD’s 80 or so schools, 30 had a higher demand for in-person learning than what their school was able to accommodate, according to district spokesman Andy Pruitt.

For more reopening information, parents can visit ccsdschools.com/safe-restart.

Face-covering policy

All students, faculty, staff and visitors will have to wear a mask while inside CCSD facilities. Students should expect to wear masks for most of the day while inside. They will need to keep their masks on throughout the day, except while eating, while at outdoor recess or during designated, socially distant "mask breaks."

Neck scarves, bandannas, neck gaiters and masks with exhalation valves or vents are not permitted. Face shields cannot be worn alone without a mask or face covering underneath.

Exceptions will be made for students with extenuating circumstances or special needs.

Transportation changes

The district has partnered with a new school bus operator this school year. It finalized a $24.7 million agreement with First Student, which will operate and manage the district’s 400 buses.

Only around 5,000 students are expected to ride the bus on the first day of school this year, since coronavirus-related school capacity restrictions have significantly decreased those coming back for face-to-face learning, said James Lynch, CCSD’s interim director of student transportation.

Parents can download the First View app to receive notifications if their child’s bus is running behind schedule. A new GPS tracking service is expected to launch through the app in October, so that parents will be able to see where their child’s bus is in real time.

This year’s bus schedules can be accessed at ccsdschools.com under the "transportation tab."

General information

The school board passed a measure last month to designate Tuesday and Wednesday as early release days so teachers and administrators can fine-tune and adjust COVID-19 protocol and safety measures, if necessary. All students will be released two hours earlier than their normal dismissal time.

Some school start/dismissal times might look different this year. Parents can access the complete 2020-21 bell schedule list at ccsdschools.com under the "important links" section.

This year, CCSD will participate in the "eLearning pilot program" authorized by the S.C. Education Oversight Committee. In the case of inclement weather, students will make up for lost class time using designated eLearning days.

Parents who need help with specific back-to-school questions can call the district’s hotline at 843-937-6366. The hotline can be used for general questions related to registration, school reopening, transportation and bell schedules.

Parents can always call their child’s school for additional help.

Berkeley County School District

Classes start Tuesday

Berkeley County students will start the year via one of three learning options offered to parents this summer: Traditional, "blended distance" and virtual.

Both blended distance and virtual options will be conducted entirely online. The blended option will feature livestreamed class instruction and livestreamed learning experiences, while the virtual option will consist of mostly premade courses and assignments that students can complete at their own pace. This option is only offered to seventh through 12th grade students.

Students who selected the traditional learning option will be able to attend school in person five days a week.

Face-covering policy

Masks and face coverings will be encouraged but not required for students, faculty and staff inside Berkeley County public schools, according to the district’s website.

Individuals can pull down their face coverings while eating, in a private office, or in a classroom where social distancing can be maintained.

The district originally said it would also recommend, but not mandate, that masks be worn while on school buses. That protocol has since been revised. Students and staff will now be required to wear face coverings while boarding, exiting and riding buses. Exceptions will be made for those with certain extenuating circumstances. The full policy can be found at bcsdschools.net/Page/34245.

General information

The school day is changing for students in Berkeley County this fall. The school board finalized a new, revised bell schedule aimed at improving issues with the district’s school bus system.

Start and dismissal times will vary by school. Parents can visit bcsdschools.net/domain/5304 to see a full school-by-school schedule breakdown.

Dorchester District 2

Classes start Tuesday

All students in Dorchester District 2 will start the school year entirely online for at least two weeks. The district will make an announcement Sept. 9 on whether students will return and follow a hybrid model beginning Sept. 21.

Under the hybrid model, half of students who want face-to-face instruction will attend in-person class on Mondays and Tuesdays while the remainder will attend Wednesdays and Thursdays. On the days students don’t attend in person, they will receive lessons and complete assignments online from home.

Much like in Charleston County, DD2 officials are hopeful that students will be able to transition to some in-person learning by Sept. 21.

Face-covering policy

Masks will be required for DD2 students, faculty and staff while inside school buildings or while on school buses. Masks breaks can be utilized while working alone in a classroom or office, while eating or while outside as long as 6 feet of social distancing is being maintained.

General information

This year, DD2 will have a 1:1 student to technology device ratio. Most devices were issued this summer.

The district's school board unanimously passed a measure last month to amend bell schedules for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. The changes will shorten the traditional school day by 30 minutes to allow for cleaning and sanitizing of school buses between routes, district spokeswoman Pat Raynor said.

More information about student technology protocol, mask policies, bell schedules and other back-to-school changes, parents can visit ddtwo.org/backtoschool.

For general questions, parents can call the district office at 843-873-2901. Otherwise, specific questions can usually be answered at the school level.

Dorchester District 4

Classes start Tuesday

Some Dorchester District 4 students will start the year using an AA/BB hybrid schedule, where some students attend in person Mondays and Tuesdays while the rest attend Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays, all students will complete assignments from home, according to DD4 Director of Student Support Services Nancy Britt-Stevens.

Students also had the choice to enroll in the "total hybrid" model, where they attend classes virtually but will receive livestreamed instruction in real time using Zoom and other video conferencing tools.

Finally, students could enroll in the district’s "virtual" platform. These students will complete assignments largely at their own pace but will have periodic check-ins with teachers.

Face covering policy

Masks will be required while on school buses or while inside school buildings. Students may be allowed to remove their masks while inside the classroom at the direction of their teachers, Britt-Stevens said.

General info

Parents should check the district’s website, dorchester4.k12.sc.us, or the district’s Facebook page for more back-to-school updates. Families with specific questions can call their child’s school during business hours.

Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif.

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