In-person learning at school start 'unlikely,' Greenville County superintendent says
Editor's note: This story was updated July 15 to clarify comments from Superintendent W. Burke Royster.
As Greenville County Schools weighs options for learning in the fall, Superintendent W. Burke Royster suggested parents prepare for the worst: Starting the school year totally online.
No final decision on a schedule plan has been made, but district officials say students may be spending much of the next school year in eLearning or virtual learning programs to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. South Carolina has seen an increased number of new cases reported daily, and last weekend the state had its first pediatric death tied to COVID-19.
If those infection trends continue closer to the fall, school officials could look to more online options for the start of the year. "Right now, it's very unlikely we could begin school with anything other than a zero or a one (day schedule of in-person class)," Royster said.
Some parents, however, hope to see a return to in-person learning. On Thursday, a group of parents will hold a peaceful rally in support of in-person classes 3-5 p.m. at the school district's office at 301 E. Camperdown Way, according to an announcement posted on social media.
The first day of school for the district's 76,000 students may be delayed from Aug. 17 to Aug. 24 to give staff time to prepare for what will likely be a different learning schedule. The district is scheduled to release a final reopening plan in late July or early August.
During a three-hour virtual meeting Tuesday morning, the Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees heard about options for reopening schools and the logistical challenges district officials are faced with. Several board members echoed support for starting school in virtual classrooms.
Board member Michelle Goodwin-Calwile said a full return to in-person classes shouldn't be on the table at all.
"We are not going to put kids in an unsafe situation," she said. "If we are doing a Zoom call to determine things, why should we put kids into school?"
The district previously announced four options for the fall: A full eLearning schedule, a full return to in-person classes, one day each week of in-person class with four days of eLearning, or two days each week of in-person class with three days of eLearning.
Most Greenville County Schools teachers and parents prefer a blend of eLearning and in-person instruction, according to survey results.
Greenville County Schools Superintendent W. Burke Royster said the biggest advantage of sending students to school for one day each week is an opportunity to develop a relationship with teachers through in-person contact.
But Royster said parents should prepare themselves to not have students return to in-person instruction at the start of the year.
"If we had to make a call today, using today's numbers, it would be zero (in-person days)," he said. "It's always best to prepare for the worst-case scenario."
The district is offering a virtual learning program to K-12 students, different than the eLearning plan. The virtual plan is completely online, with dedicated virtual learning teachers and a consistent schedule.
About 7,000 students signed up for the virtual program by Tuesday, with 2,000 students signing up within the last couple weeks. The virtual program is expected to grow in coming weeks, Royster said.
The deadline to enroll in the virtual learning program is July 27, but applications will be accepted later.
District officials are waiting on guidance from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control about what to do if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19 including protocols for quarantines and testing.
District officials will update the board again during a virtual meeting scheduled for Aug. 4.
Haley Walters covers public safety, crime and breaking news. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @_haleywalters