In-person Classes with Staggered Schedules Look to Strengthen Social Distancing Practices
By: Garrett Mitchell
District 4 Schools on Tuesday, July 7, announced their plans for a return to school for students this fall in an announcement from district superintendent Dr. Rallie Liston.
For parents and students weary on online learning and homeschool methods in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the news was welcome.
The district, with continued adherence to current social distancing guidelines and recommendations set forth by DHEC, will begin classes in August under a hybrid model of in-school and e-learning for students that will see them learn both at school and at home.
The plan was reached after the district requested input from parents of students and from the community. The response was overwhelming.
“After closing the previous school year, we were faced with the task of planning for the 2020-21 school year in the midst of great uncertainty and constantly changing guidance,” said Liston via a press release. “We began our planning by asking for input from District 4 parents and guardians. You overwhelmingly responded to our request. We received 1,036 survey responses, which represented over 70 percent of our student population. In addition, principals at each school surveyed or talked with individual faculties to gain their perspectives. We relied on those responses along with guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). We also studied the recommendations from the AccelerateED Task Force, which was formed to provide guidance to the SC Superintendent of Education and to school districts across the state.”
Survey results showed that the vast majority of parents were still uncomfortable with a full return to class, yet did prefer some form of in-school instruction for their children. With that in mind, the district formulated an A/B hybrid schedule that will see students come to school on alternate days while working from home on ones in which they are not present at their respective schools.
Essentially, students throughout the district will be divided into schedules labeled ‘A’ and ‘B’. Students on the ‘A’ schedule will attend class on Mondays and Wednesday while ‘B’ schedule students will come to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday attendance will be for those students requiring remediation or enrichment learning opportunities.
Additionally, scheduling on the ‘A’ and ‘B’ basis will be done according to last name and physical address, with an emphasis on ensuring siblings attend school on the same day. Students enrolled in the district’s 3K half-day program will attend school daily according to their designated times.
The district also gives parents the option to remain in a virtual learning format through the first semester of the school year, or through December, 2020, at their discretion.
Liston credited district staff, teachers, and administrators who had the arduous task of constructing and implementing such a detailed plan on short notice during what Liston acknowledges are unprecedented circumstances.
“I appreciate the support and encouragement of the District 4 family and community during the unprecedented school closures we experienced in Spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “I will always be grateful to District 4 educators who, on short notice, provided instruction for students through online learning and instructional packets, to cafeteria staff members who prepared and packaged meals for students, to drivers who delivered those meals, and to administrators and office staff who provided leadership and guidance during these months. I am also grateful to our students, parents, community, and School Board who supported us throughout all of these endeavors.”
Other precautions and limitations outlined in the press release detail that the district will limit entry and exit points to schools, will set restroom breaks for students that adhere to social distancing guidelines, and discontinue the use of school water fountains during the academic year. However, students will be allowed to bring their own water containers from home. Also, no field trips will be sanctioned by the district during the 2020-21 academic year.
While schools will highly encourage students and staff to wear masks and other personal protective gear, it will not be initially required.
While optimism is high that the coming school year will be as seamless as possible given the ongoing health crisis, Liston also urged patience and flexibility as circumstances, he said, are subject to change.
“It is very likely that we will be required to utilize several attendance models this year,” Liston said. “We could move from the hybrid model (A/B schedule) into the traditional face-to-face instructional model within a few weeks if we see a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases. On the other hand, we could move from the hybrid model into full school closures with 100 percent remote learning like we experienced this past spring. There could be scenarios where most of the district would operate under the hybrid model (A/B schedule), and one school or a single classroom could be required to close depending on increased cases and exposure. As I said, there will be a tremendous need for flexibility this school year. We realize that these various models and continuing need for flexibility make it difficult for parents to plan for childcare and supervision. We understand the challenges surrounding this constantly developing situation. We ask for your continued support and understanding, as we attempt to accomplish our two goals of educating our students and caring for their health and safety.”
*The full press release from District 4 schools can be accessed below*