CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County schools are reopening for in-person classes Tuesday to about 12,000 students, 25-percent of the district’s enrollment.
The other 75-percent, which is around 35,000 students, is set to start the year virtually. Of that, almost 5,000 want to return in person but weren’t allowed to on the first day because of safety concerns. In response, the school board approved a plan Friday to bring back all elementary and middle school students who want to return by Sept. 21 and all high school students by the first week of October.
A virtual option will remain available for all students for the entire school year.
For those returning in person, there will be strict mask rules in place. They must be worn at all times and cover a child’s nose, mouth, and chin.
Neck scarves, bandannas, gaitors, and masks with exhalation valves or vents are not allowed. The school district said those are not acceptable pursuant to DHEC and MUSC guidelines.
About 20-percent of a school will be fogged every night, and surfaces will be cleaned throughout the day. Custodians will also clean the bathrooms twice a day.
Water fountains have been turned off and water bottle filling stations have been installed in every school.
About 5,000 Charleston County students are expected to be riding a bus on the first day of school, significantly fewer than previous years.
Under COVID state guidelines, only two students are allowed in each seat and all are required to wear face masks during the ride. If a student violates one of the rules, the bus driver will document the behavior and the school will handle it. Assigned seats will be established after the first few weeks of school.
During the ride, windows and vents on top of the buses will be partially opened for increased air circulation. They are also set to be cleaned and disinfected twice a day, and that’s expected to cost more than $500,000 for the year.
The district’s 2020-2021 bus schedules for all grade levels can be found here. A new bus tracking app is also set to launch in October.
A dashboard tracking positive COVID-19 cases will be updated daily and show the running two-week total of cases (students and staff) on a school-by-school basis.
According to the district’s protocols, when a student or staff member in a school tests positive for the virus, that person will be required to stay out of school for at least 10 days and will be directed to isolate.
District officials said their Nursing Services Department and the school nurse, in cooperation with DHEC, will then begin contract tracing to determine if there are people who have had “close contact” with the person who tested positive.
“Close contact” is defined by DHEC as “being within six feet for 15 minutes or more to a COVID-19 case while contagious” either with or without face coverings. In classrooms where social distancing could not be maintained, all children and staff will be considered close contacts.
Dependent on the findings, district officials said they will implement the following types of notification: Direct notification for “close contacts,” notification for those who are not “close contacts,” and school-level and broad notification.
The school district is launching its annual back-to-school hotline Tuesday to help families prepare for the new school year. Parents, guardians, and students can call 843-937-6366 to get their questions answered.
The line will open Tuesday and run through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day.
The first two days of school will also be early release days.