Beaufort County Schools release their plan for fall classes

The Beaufort County School District today released details of a plan to reopen its classrooms for the first time since South Carolina’s governor shut down the state’s schools in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While awaiting approval from the South Carolina Department of Education, the plan can be viewed on the school district’s website.

Parents can request one of two educational options under the district’s plan: face-to-face learning where students report to school buildings five days a week, or virtual learning where students complete their classroom assignments online.

Superintendent Frank Rodriguez said if currently rising COVID-19 infection rates subside enough to allow for face-to-face instruction in classrooms, the district’s plan features health and safety precautions recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. The plan calls for students, teachers and school staff to wear masks during the school day, and it also details protocols for what will happen if students or school staff become ill.

“Every parent and every educator agrees that in-person instruction, where students work with their teachers in school classrooms face to face, is the most effective way to go,” Rodriguez said. “Our reopening plan summarizes how that will happen as soon as we can do it safely.”

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s weekly county-by-county metrics measuring COVID-19 infection rates have rated Beaufort County “High” in all three rating categories for three consecutive weeks. Beaufort County’s 108 new cases reported Thursday marked the highest single-day total since the pandemic began. Twenty-seven deaths in the county have been attributed to COVID-19.

Beaufort County government announced Thursday that county offices will again be closed due to rising infection rates across the county and among county government employees.

Rodriguez said that if high numbers of parents request face-to-face instruction in district schools that are already at their enrollment capacity, the plan’s physical distancing requirements might require a hybrid instruction model where students attend school in person on alternate days.

In addition to providing information on face-to-face instruction, the district’s reopening plan features details on a virtual learning option that will be available throughout the entire 2020-21 academic year.

“Our plan has some flexibilities built in because as we’ve seen, the situation with COVID-19 can change rapidly,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll be able to adjust our procedures as conditions change.

“It’s a detailed plan, but operating a school has so many moving parts that it’s not going to answer every question parents and district educators have. That’s why we’re including a component that allows parents and educators to pose specific questions.”

Rodriguez said responses to parent and educator questions would be archived in a Q&A posted in the reopening section of the district website.

On Wednesday the Beaufort County Board of Education approved Rodriguez’s recommendation that the district develop a revised 2020-21 school calendar that would delay the first day of school from the current start date of August 17 until September 8.

Earlier this week, parents of the school district’s 22,000 students began completing online registration for their children and requesting either face-to-face or online learning. Rodriguez said parents should still state their preference when registering their children for the new school year.

“We need to know parents’ preferences, so we’ll be ready to roll with both options when it’s safe to do so,” he said.

On Wednesday, the S.C. High School League Executive Committee decided to move the start of fall sports competition until September because of the pandemic. The SCHSL’s plan pushes the start of practices from July 30 to Aug. 17, with games potentially starting for football four weeks later.

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