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Lexington-Richland 5 reveals school reopening plans. Here's what families need to know.

The State (Columbia, SC) logo The State (Columbia, SC) 7/14/2020 By Bristow Marchant, The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Schools in the Lexington-Richland 5 school district are preparing to open for the 2020 fall semester on time next month, even if it means modifying how classes will operate in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Guidelines for reopening classes were announced at Monday’s school board meeting in Chapin. They foresee teachers returning to work Aug. 11, and students coming back Aug. 19.

When they return to campus, they will find social distancing enforced in all school facilities, in line with guidance from the S.C. Department of Education. There will be protocols for frequent hand-washing and sanitizing, including hand-sanitizing stations in classrooms and bathrooms. Educational spaces will be frequently cleaned, and local mask requirements will be followed.

Bus routes will also need to be adjusted to allow for more social distancing, with busloads cut in half and frequent cleaning.

School district staff are working on protocols for dealing with students or staff who develop symptoms of COVID-19, as well as any emotional support that students will need.

But specifics can be adjusted as the pandemic evolves, and parents will get more specific information from their schools in the next two weeks, said Superintendent Christina Melton.

Melton compared the guidelines to the weather alerts parents receive shortly before school hours have to be adjusted.

“This is where we are at this point, but it’s not necessarily where we will be later,” Melton said.

Plans can be adjusted after nine weeks, and after the end of the semester.

SC Department of Education recommendations

The district’s plans come as schools prepare to begin operations in the fall. Last month, the neighboring district in Lexington 1 rolled out their plan for reopening schools in the fall, with precautions for each grade to participate in socially distant on-campus learning, as well as giving students the option to continue learning online.

Lexington 1 plans for a mixed use of online and on-campus instruction. Lexington-Richland 5 is considering a virtual instruction plan, but Melton said the district will need a waiver from the Department of Education to extend distance learning for a longer period of time.

The district is following recommendations from the S.C. Department of Education’s AccelerateEd task force that includes limiting the number of students on school buses, ensuring students minimize exposure to other students, cleaning surfaces, wearing personal protective equipment and more.

Lexington-Richland 5 will hold early “leap days” to allow some students in K-8 to come onto campus earlier on July 29-30, Aug. 3 and Aug. 5-6. A leap day student will be assigned a day and won’t have to attend all five leap days.

On Monday, the Palmetto State Teachers Association said the state would need to provide more funding and better guidelines to school districts before students are able to head back to class.

Standards for personal protective equipment and classroom cleaning are needed to “alleviate confusion among teachers whose classroom energies will be taxed like never before,” the teachers group said in a letter to S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and Education Superintendent Molly Spearman.

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©2020 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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