School district officials unveil reopening plan

By Greg Oliver

Courtesy The Journal

EASLEY — The School District of Pickens County has released a 30-plus-page reopening plan using six-week schedules containing both face-to-face and online instruction.

“In our first month of school, we will attempt to create a sense of belonging in all grade levels and to prepare for eLearning instruction,” superintendent Danny Merck said in a letter sent to parents last week. “The first two weeks of school will allow us to gather vital information from teachers, parents and students to adjust moving forward. To protect our students and to make sure we have a healthy workforce, these schedules will be updated periodically as we continue to monitor community outbreaks of the virus.”

Merck added that following the first two weeks of school, which begins Aug. 10, the district expects to alter its daily routines in every school “to provide an even safer environment as we monitor daily the safety and well-being of all students and employees.”

The reopening plan states that parents or guardians will have a choice of allowing students to attend school traditionally, virtually or via Pickens County Virtual Academy. Should they choose the virtual academy, the superintendent said the district has set the enrollment deadline for this Friday.

Under the initial six-week schedule established by the school district, the first two weeks — Aug. 10-14 and Aug. 17-21 — will be for all students to attend schools for face-to-face instruction, while Aug. 24-28 would include only students in special programs and early childhood (3K-second grades) to attend in person and eLearning online for all other students in grades 3-12. From Aug. 31-Sept. 4, the district would use eLearning for everyone, with no students at schools, and all students would return to school for face-to-face instruction Sept. 8-11 and Sept. 14-18.

Merck said while a schedule has been established, it will have to be fluid.

“We will attempt to provide as much in-person instruction as possible during each six-week schedule, but the flu season, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, may result in more eLearning,” Merck said. “If our county continues to receive a high spread rating from DHEC, then it is likely we will continue with the same six-week schedule as the first six weeks.”

Merck said the school district has identified students in special programs and early childhood (3K-second grade) as the highest priority for in-person face-to-face instruction. The superintendent added those groups will receive face-to-face instruction at times when other student groups are being taught through intermittent virtual or virtual academy. Students targeted in the special programs group will be notified directly by the school district’s special services department.

Also included in the plan are cleaning checklists in which custodial crews will clean classrooms and office areas, focusing on disinfecting high-touch areas and conducting regular walk-throughs with supervisors to identify areas requiring additional cleaning. Small group programming will be allowed, but safety precautions are required to ensure students and staff are safe, and guidelines must be followed.

Specific examples include installation of foaming hand sanitizer dispensers in each classroom and conducting daily health screens for staff and students. Face coverings, such as masks or face shield, will be required for all employees when physical distancing is not possible. Bus drivers will also be required to wear face masks or coverings, while students will be encouraged to do so. Signs will be posted throughout buildings promoting safe practices and social distancing, and there will also be markings on floors for social distancing in areas where lines typically form. There will be regular cleaning and disinfecting following the school district’s comprehensive cleaning program.

As far as visitors go, only essential visitors and partners will be allowed to regularly take part in district activities in order to reduce the number of people in buildings. They must also adhere to the same procedures as other adults, including daily symptom checks and wearing of face coverings.

The district will also follow DHEC and state guidelines as close as possible regarding bus capacity (50 percent) and cleaning procedures in between routes. Assigned seating will be required for all routes, and first priority for any shared seats will go to members of the same household.