Charleston County teachers pushing for earlier, virtual start

VIDEO: Charleston County teachers pushing for earlier, virtual start

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County teachers are only two weeks away from returning to their classrooms as the district moves forward with its reopening plan, but some are questioning if it’s too soon.

The plan, which the school board approved Monday, pushes the start date for students back to Sept. 8 while teachers are set to return in-person on Aug. 11.

“That’s definitely a concern, being required to learn in the building or teach in the building,” said Megan Barbee who teaches at James Island Charter High School. “The idea of being in the classroom with students definitely puts me on edge.”

Barbee has been outspoken against teachers and students physically returning to the buildings while COVID-19 case numbers remain high in the county.

She sent a letter to the school district that she said had support from more than 1,600 other teachers and district staff members.

“We see a virtual restart as an opportunity for CCSD to lead the charge in innovative virtual instruction in South Carolina for the safety of all staff and students beginning Aug. 18,” the letter stated. “Of course teachers want to return to the physical building but only as soon as it is safely possible.”

Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait said on Monday she anticipates reopening with most students temporarily learning from home.

Barbee supports this move and said teachers will be better prepared than they were in March and April.

“I equate what happened back in the Spring as trying to make sure the ship gets safely back to harbor. No abrupt movements, just trying to manage,” Barbee said. “We’ve had a lot of time to plan. Personally, I’ve taken part in four days worth of training on virtual instruction already. My school is rolling out professional development. I’m feeling empowered based on that training.”

She said some concerns other teachers shared with her included substitute coverage, wondering how physical education teachers and teaching assistants fit into a virtual model, and which students would come back if only some are allowed.

“There’s also the reality that students are going to have a difficult time adhering to the social distancing protocols, and the idea that they won’t have to wear their mask in the classroom even if six-foot protocols are happening,” Barbee said. “That’s still worrisome when we don’t know enough information about how this disease is spread.”

According to the district, Charleston County must see a downward trend in COVID-19 rates over a 14-day period before the board will consider changing the operating mode. Data will be reviewed every two weeks by staff and monthly by the school board.

“I’m optimistic that they seem to really be moving towards the DHEC metrics which would mean starting virtually on Sept. 8. Of course, we wish we could start sooner,” Barbee said.

The full “Safe Restart” plan can be viewed here.

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