Richland County school district leaders have yet to go public with classroom reopening plans, even as many parents in the capital region are lining up to know when their children can get behind desks again.
Administrators in Richland School Districts One and Two gave no indication during board meetings on Tuesday about when in-person teaching may start, either on a full-time or hybrid basis.
Students in both districts, which combined have more than 50,000 students, have been learning remotely since Aug. 31.
State education officials approved reopening plans for both Richland County districts with the caveat that officials reevaluate in-person options every two weeks.
At Richland One, COVID-19 transmission rates within school district boundaries remain too high to justify students returning, officials said, pointing to an incidence rate of 281 per 100,000 people and a two-week positivity rate of 18.3 percent.
“Our priority is to get kids back to school,” said Sandra Brossard, the district’s chief of teaching and learning.
A September survey of 2,766 Richland One staffers and nearly 6,600 parents and guardians found that 43 percent and 33 percent respectively were still “very uncomfortable” with the idea of a return to classroom learning.
“We can make up academics. But you can’t make up death,” Richland One commissioner Cheryl Harris said. “Right now, it is not safe. The data is showing us it’s not safe.”
Meanwhile, several Richland Two parents, staff members and teachers praised Superintendent Baron Davis’ decision Tuesday to keep virtual learning intact districtwide through written comments to the board — two weeks after a flurry of complaints were lodged by parents who want classrooms back in use.
Annette Clark-Brown, a physician who has a freshman and senior at Blythewood High School, urged administrators to keep the virtual format in place.
“While I certainly would prefer my boys to experience their first and last years of high school in person, I am acutely aware of the dangers that face-to-face instruction poses,” she said.
Davis said COVID-19 infection rates within his district remain too high to resume in-person classes. He said internal polling of teachers, staff and parents within his district yielded similar findings to Richland One, but the details was not shared publicly Tuesday.
“The vast majority of parents are not comfortable with sending their students back to school, but the numbers are changing slightly,” Davis said. “I think it’s important we be mindful and we be cautious, but not afraid.”
Gov. Henry McMaster and state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman have called on districts to resume face-to-face instruction, something that just 20 percent of South Carolina’s 81 public school systems offered from the start of the academic year.
In a letter to educators last week, Spearman encouraged schools to resume in-person teaching five days a week for “students who need it the most.”
The request covers all kindergarten through fifth grade students, those with special needs, English learners, students who are homeless or in foster care, students who are “academically delayed,” and those with poor internet connection at home.
Richland One commissioner Beatrice King asked Superintendent Craig Witherspoon if he’d favor such an approach for students there.
“That is under consideration, absolutely,” he said, but district leaders plan to continue talks with state public health officials and their task forces before coming forward with a recommendation.
Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.