By Jeremy Handel, Staff Writer
Students at Woodruff Primary and Elementary schools will be returning to the classroom for a full, five-day schedule beginning at the end of September, according to a recently released instructional plan for Spartanburg County School District 4.
Due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, students in Woodruff returned to school under a hybrid model, with half of each school’s students attending in person on Monday and Wednesday and the other half attending on Tuesday and Thursday. The two groups alternate Fridays. Students have attended remote classes on the other days. Students were also given an opportunity to elect full-time, remote learning for the school year.
Under the new plan, preschool and kindergarten students at Woodruff Primary School will return to classes five days per week beginning on Monday, Sept. 28, followed by grades one through five at the elementary school on Monday, Oct. 19. Middle and high school students will continue the current hybrid schedule while the district studies the safety of a full-time return for those grades. Students who elected full-time remote learning will continue to study remotely through the rest of the school year.
“We’re trying to put some more normalcy back into what they are doing,” said District Superintendent Dr. W. Rallie Liston. “We’ll start with our youngest students. We feel like we’ll be able to make this move with those groups safely.”
The instructional plan, released on Sept. 11, 2020, said the “goal has always been to have students return to full-time, face-to-face instruction as soon as we believe it is safe to do so.” Dr. Liston said based on continued conversations with South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials, monitoring of local infection rates, and the low number of positive tests through the school year thus far, the district is ready to begin moving back to a full-time schedule.
The health and safety of the students and staff is still the top concern, and in order to make this move safely, flexibility and communication are going to be critical to its success, he said. Officials will be monitoring the situation very closely and will revert to a hybrid schedule or even full-time remote learning if there is an increase in positive cases.
“Flexibility is key and we’re going to have to make determinations as situations arise,” Dr. Liston said. If the district starts to experience an increase in positive cases, the decision could be made to revert to hybrid or full remote for a single class, an entire grade, or an entire school depending on the severity.
“It’s a classic case of situational leadership. If safety is everyone’s priority, and it should be, then this is the best way to go,” he added.
According to District 4 officials, the number of positive tests across the four schools has been low, and all were contracted outside of school. Dr. Liston said that the measures the district has taken so far – physical distancing, wearing masks, and increased cleaning and disinfecting – are working and the students have been following guidelines without complaint.
The district is also studying other local districts that have already moved some students back to full-time, in-school instruction. Spartanburg School District 2 brought its elementary students back to five-day, in-school instruction during week three.
According to District 2’s Director of Public Relations Adrian Acosta, they have been “blessed with a very successful result thus far.” Acosta credited the success to meticulous planning on the district and school level for safety, the faculty and staff’s stringent adherence to safety protocols, and the support of the community in educating their children about the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.
District 2 utilizes the same Family Model for its younger students as District 4, which keeps classes in the same room with the same students while the teachers move to different classrooms for instruction. This limits the students’ exposure to a smaller group.
Acosta said another key to the success they have achieved so far is transparent and constant communication with students and parents. Dr. Liston also indicated that communication was going to be a key to success here in Woodruff.
“I’m trying to overcommunicate to build trust with parents that we are being transparent throughout this process,” he said. The district is utilizing its phone blasts to communicate any situations to parents, most times before any notifications from DHEC, Dr. Liston added.
He said the district is making sure parents are aware if their child has had any exposure or even been in the vicinity of someone who has been exposed but did not expose their child.
As the return to five-day classes approaches, each school will be communicating the new schedule and specific drop-off and pick-up procedures to parents soon.