Masks to be required in S.C. schools; Clarendon, Lee district reopening plans approved

Clarendon 1 to start Aug. 17; Clarendon 3, Lee to start Sept. 8

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Three tri-county area school districts are among the most recent group of reopening plans approved Friday by the state education department in an announcement that also instituted a mask requirement in public school facilities.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman announced 36 school district reopening plans as well as those for the two residential Governor’s Schools that will both return with hybrid, face-to-face and virtual options. Summerton-based Clarendon School District One, Turbeville-based Clarendon County School District Three and Lee County School District were given the go-ahead for their plans, leaving only Sumter School District and Manning-based Clarendon School District Two without approvals in the three counties.

Friday’s group are in addition to the 31 districts that Spearman approved earlier this week, bringing the total number of approved plans to 67 out of the state’s 81 public school districts.

According to a news release from the state Department of Education, the agency hopes to have all plans approved by next week.

To be approved, school districts must meet criteria set by the state department. They include offering both a virtual and a face-to-face option for instruction, a time frame to review operational plans with a goal of moving toward a five-day-a-week in-person instruction model and establishing how high-quality instruction and a “broad range of students services” will be provided.

Unlike the emergency remote learning implemented last spring when the COVID-19 outbreak put the world on lockdown, students participating in virtual options this fall will have “a daily instructional schedule, receive frequent teacher feedback and face high standards for earning passing grades,” according to the state department.

According to the department, Clarendon 1 will start its school year on Aug. 17. The district will offer three instruction options for all students: face-to-face five days a week; a hybrid model with two days of instruction in person; and fully virtual.

Clarendon 3 will start school on Sept. 8 and is also offering three options, though they are different. Students in kindergarten through second grade will be offered in-person instruction five days a week, and grades 3-12 will be offered two days of face-to-face instruction a week. All students can also choose to learn in an all-virtual capacity.

Lee County School District plans to start class on Sept. 8 and will offer all students both a hybrid model with two days a week of face-to-face instruction and fully virtual learning.

According to the state, Lee’s plan approval is contingent on the district offering an in-person option no later than Sept. 14.

Sumter School District’s submitted plan, which has not yet been approved, includes only a virtual option to start, and administration will reassess every 30 days.

Masks required in all public school facilities

Spearman also on Friday instituted a face mask requirement for students and staff that will begin when they return for Learn, Evaluate, Analyze and Prepare (LEAP) orientation/instructional days.

"As we prepare to welcome students and teachers back to South Carolina classrooms for face to face instruction, it is imperative that we implement measures that are proven to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus," Spearman said. "Requiring the use of face masks for everyone in our school buildings in combination with other mitigation tactics will help ensure that we have safe learning environments even when optimal social distancing is not feasible."

According to the state, the requirement while inside facilities follows CDC guidance, which makes exceptions for children younger than 2, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious and anyone who is incapacitated or unable to remove a cloth face covering without assistance.

The CDC guidance also has considerations for clear face coverings for special populations of students and staff.

The state department is purchasing and providing five cloth face masks for every teacher, bus driver, custodian and food service worker, has already purchased cloths masks for students and staff taking part in Academic Recovery Camps and will make masks available on school buses, on which Spearman announced earlier this week a requirement they be worn.

The department said it has also worked with other state agencies to place large statewide orders for masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, flexiglass, hand sanitizer and other protective equipment on behalf of school districts.