Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – Tuesday night, the Lexington County School District One Board of Trustees met and were presented the district’s next step for COVID-19 influenced learning. The plan for this Phase Two was developed after considering experiences the district had during the first three weeks of the 2020/2021 school year. The plan was presented to the board by District Superintendent Dr. Greg Little.
Using various means of communications Tuesday, Dr. Little reminded the board, parents, and staff members that although District Ones’ leaders had originally hoped to have all students back in school by Monday, September 28, they have since realized that bringing everyone back at the same time was not the best approach. Lexington District One has already shown their ability and willingness to adapt to any situation they encounter as students slowly return. Just last week, they quickly pivoted rescheduling the start of River Bluff High Schools varsity football season after some involved with the program tested positive for the coronavirus. These Phase Two plans have been adapted to reflect what was really going on in Lexington One schools.
Dr. Little said Tuesday that the district built their original timeline for implementing a Phase Two return around the fact that four weeks would give them two complete 14-day COIVD-19 infection cycles. During these 28 days they had the opportunity to collect data and analysis and learn from their experiences. This learning has helped them adapt to their new safety routines and those are integrated into Phase Two.
Little said during the 28-day period, District One’s leaders learned they needed to do whatever possible to alleviate the impact of social distancing first. For that reason, they built Phase Two around adding Plexiglass in all schools. They also worked toward creating other ways for students to social distance.
According to Dr. Little, both parents and staff recommended phasing in their face-to-face classrooms. This emulates a businesses’ “soft” opening. The district staff agreed. During the 28-day trial, they learned that deliberate steps are best and safety checks are necessary along the way. Dr. Little made it clear their goal is not to just open but to stay open.
District One has always been committed to minimizing student and staff exposure to the coronavirus as much as possible. To do this, leaders have and will continue to study positive COVID-19 cases in their schools, according to Dr. Little. Those studies have included the number of individuals who have exhibited symptoms, student and staff attendance data, and the district’s ability to cover classes when substitutes are not available.
In Phase Two, District One’s “Four Plus One” model, the district brings Cohort A and B pre-kindergarten through second-grade students into school for face-to-face instruction four days a week (Monday–Thursday). This will begin Monday, October 5. Fridays will remain e-learning days.
As in Phase One, masks will be essential during this next step, but their use will now increase. PreK through 2nd grade students who have already been wearing masks as they move around the schools will also begin wearing the masks in their classrooms.
In addition to the PreK-2nd grade students, some with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and some English Language Learners will also come back on October 5. Right now, students in grades three through 12 with IEPs who are in Resource programs will stay on their hybrid schedule.
According to Dr. Little, this model gives school leaders and staff additional time to adjust to serving additional students in the building face-to-face. It also allows them to bring in the youngest students who need that in person instruction while still monitoring the spread of COVID-19 carefully. Elementary students, who according to Dr. Little have some of the highest educational and social-emotional needs, do not change classes. They stay with their classroom family throughout the day. Their meals are delivered to their classrooms, so they have limited exposure to other children and staff outside of their own classes.
PreK–G2 students will also have Plexiglass dividers at their desks beginning in Phase Two. Grades 3–5 will also receive Plexiglass dividers in the following weeks. As soon as they are installed, District One will bring those students back in.
The plan does not impact students in the Lexington One Online Learning Academy.
In his presentation to the board and through his email to parents, Dr. Little said that lessons learned during the first three weeks of school, surveys, and meetings with the Superintendent’s Advisory Councils have shown that the district can hold face-to-face learning with the proper safety measures in place for both students and staff in the lower grades. However, as students get older, it becomes difficult to control enough of their time at school to ensure they are adequately social distanced from other students. For that reason, middle and high school students will continue to follow the current hybrid (AA BB) model for the time being.
Dr. Little also went on to explain that middle and high school students change classes many times a day. They are often social by nature and therefore naturally tend to gather outside of classrooms, while participating in athletics, performing arts, and other extracurricular activities. When social distancing has not been possible for secondary students, Dr. Little said it has significantly affected the number of students who have had to quarantine due to exposure. He committed to bring secondary students back when District One can do more to provide social distancing.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Little took the time to thank parents for their support as District One continues to bring students back to their campuses safely. He also reminded all stakeholders that they need to be committed to ensuring the safety of District One school by following the guidelines distributed before school began.