Charleston County now is in the “medium” range, with 8.8 percent of COVID tests coming back positive, and that’s cause for some cautious optimism, noted Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait at the Feb. 22 school board meeting. District officials want to get students back to the classroom as soon as possible.
But the county still is experiencing a "high" incidence rate of 425 per 100,000 people, so more vigilance is required.
District officials hope to minimize virtual learning next year, alleviate burdens on teachers and return students to the classrooms in large numbers. Online options will remain available at all grade levels, and adjustments will certainly be required.
“We would like to have all of our children back, but we realize that’s not possible for all families,” she told the board, which approved the 2021-22 academic calendar at the meeting.
The teacher-student ratio will increase in the fall because of ongoing safety concerns, Postlewait said.
That means more teachers, in order to contain class sizes. Parents are expected to indicate enrollment preferences in March, giving the district a clearer idea of what resources will be needed.
The goal is to improve the quality of the learning experience, reinforce safety protocols and lower costs, the superintendent said.
Some teachers are managing in-person and online learning at the same time. That’s too much to ask of educators and should stop, she said.
Chief Operating Officer Jeff Borowy, responding to a question about federal recommendations, athletics and the spread of the COVID virus, said the district considers information released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but consults with the Medical University of South Carolina and with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to craft COVID policies for the schools.
High exposure at a single school (three cases or more in a two-week period) triggers immediate consultation with DHEC’s Lowcountry medical director, he said.
The board voted to approve a 2021-22 academic calendar of 180 days, that begins on Wednesday, Aug. 18, and aligns with the calendars of Berkeley County schools and Dorchester District 2. Spring break will come just ahead of Easter Sunday, which is April 17, 2022.
Calendar options were proposed to parents who indicated their preferences and offered comments (1,100 of them) on various subjects. Some wondered about an extended calendar, but school officials did not indicate that was an option under serious consideration.
Others complained about mid-week teacher workdays, which result in days off or early releases for students. The board voted to move a couple of those to the end of the week, but three others could not be changed because of external restrictions.
Some parents noted that “eLearning Days” helped fill in gaps and asked for more of them. The district is allowed up to five, which are on the calendar.
CFO Donald Kennedy reported that the annual budget for the 2021-22 school year is under construction, though it won’t be finalized until district goals are determined and then approved by the board, and the state Legislature provides information about any funding changes.