IRMO — Students in the Lexington/Richland 5 school district can begin returning to their classrooms four days a week next Monday, a month after schools here opened with a mix of in-person and online learning, announced Superintendent Christina Melton.
Her announcement means that within six weeks, students of all grades whose parents chose to send them back to the classroom will be in school twice as much as they are now. She gave no hint of when a full, five-day schedule might be possible. She suggested it might not happen at all this school year.
“We continue to make adjustments based upon the information we hear from people giving us constructive feedback,” Melton said Monday during a school board meeting at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo.
Under her plan, pre-kindergarten students through second graders can be in class for four days starting Oct. 5, followed two weeks later by third through sixth graders. Seventh through twelfth graders won’t have that option until Nov. 9. On Wednesdays, every student will be learning remotely, while facilities are cleaned.
Melton’s decision on more days in the classroom was weeks in the making and came under a cloud of scrutiny from parents who since the summer have protested on opposite sides of the issue, with some wanting to stay virtual until COVID-19 cases drop dramatically and others pushing for the ability to send their children to school full-time from the start.
“I want students back five days a week. I want teachers doing what they do best five days a week, but COVID-19 has changed what public education has been,” Melton said. “We have tried to be flexible and dynamic rather than to concede and lesson our expectations.”
Unlike in other school districts, Melton’s decision needed no debate or vote by her school board. The Lexington/Richland trustees have said such operational moves are solely up to the superintendent.
Chapin Intermediate School fifth-grader Becca Pyle said she wants to be in class five days weekly.
“It’s harder to learn at home. It’s harder to stay focused whenever you have to stare at a computer screen all day long,” said the 10-year-old, while wearing a mask with multi-colored musical notes across the front. “I think five days face-to-face is essential and that kids need it to learn.”
She said she’ll feel safe as long people are wearing masks as required and social distancing.
A wave of parents stood in front of Dutch Fork High on Monday with signs again calling for five days of in-person learning.
“SCHOOLS NOT SCREENS! Face-2-Face instruction is ESSENTIAL!” was written in white and pink stickers on pastel pieces of poster board — intentionally eye-catching so trustees walking into the building would notice.
Melton’s decision was met with mixed reaction by the small crowd allowed into the Dutch Fork High school cafeteria for Monday’s meeting, limited by social distancing guidelines.
“I think Dr. Melton has come up with the best plan possible. They have taken everything into consideration possible. The safety of everyone and what’s best for these children,” retired district teacher Debbie Goodman told trustees.
Lexington/Richland 5 parent Hugh Ryan encouraged district leaders to ramp up to five days of in-person learning.
“Let’s be brave. Let’s go for it,” he said.
Earlier in the summer, Melton and other district officials were leaning toward starting the school year offering five days in the classroom. But they changed course as COVID-19 cases spiked in mid-July, not only in the district that spans two counties but across the state.
When the school year opened Sept. 8, the in-person option for students meant two days weekly in the classroom and three days online. Half of the students come to school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half attend on Thursdays and Fridays.
Like all of South Carolina’s 81 school districts, Lexington/Richland also offered parents an all-virtual option. The percentage of students opting for the remote-only model is as high as 50 percent in some districts, reducing the number of students in the classroom, even when all opting for in-person are back together.
Lexington/Richland 5’s yearlong all-virtual option is “at capacity,” said Michael Guliano, the district’s chief instructional officer. But he couldn’t specify how many or what percentage of students are learning in that model.
Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.