A decision on returning to full in-school instruction for middle and high school students will come next Monday or Tuesday in Fort Mill.

But it doesn’t look good if you examine current COVID statistics, Superintendent Chuck Epps said Tuesday night at the first trustees meeting of 2021.

“Right now, quite honestly, it does not look like that is going to happen,” Dr. Epps said. “But next week will be two weeks out from the beginning of that grading period. It would be my plan hopefully going forward to go in two week increments (of review).”

Trustees spent much of Tuesday’s meeting talking about the impact of the pandemic, including plans to reopen, back-up options, staff reaction on safety measures and an update regarding onsite COVID testing for students and staff. (The trustees meeting lasted 2 hours and 36 minutes.)

The debate on returning A-B students to full in-school instruction led to the most reaction among parents, the superintendent said.

“People assume we have already made the decision. That assumption is wrong,” Dr. Epps said. “If it had to be next week, obviously the answer is no.”

Beginning next week, the district will evaluate the situation in two week increments to determine if students can return to full face-to-face instruction.

Plexiglass desk shields are being installed at middle and high schools and should be completed by next week. The district is implementing changes that would allow students to return to face-to-face learning once the situation allows for it, the district said.

There are a multitude of factors that go into the determination to return to full face-to-face instruction, remain in the hybrid model or move to a full virtual option.

Meanwhile, the district hopes to start offering COVID-19 testing on Monday. Students and staff who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 will be eligible to participate in testing provided by the district, which will be held at the Catawba Ridge High School athletic facilities. Full details will be announced later this week.

Staff members expressed their safety concerns in a survey, with Communications Director Joe Burke sharing results on Tuesday night. Staff members were asked their reaction to a proposed return to 5 day a week face-to-face instruction for middle and high school. The survey was provided to all staff in October and November of 2020.

Some suggested include reducing class sizes; encouraging the use of lockers to minimize amount of materials in classroom allowing for better distancing; minimizing transition/movement of students; staggering start/end times for days/classes, using family pods like elementary schools, requiring questionnaire/screening questions for students, and COVID-19 testing.

Staff members also gave feedback on possible physical safety measures, many of which have already been implemented. New measures and protocols already in process include:

• Desk shields have been purchased for middle and high schools.

• Implementation of new CDC and DHEC guidelines for quarantine periods.

• Assessment of class sizes under a five day return.

• Participation in the state COVID-19 testing program.

• Increased the frequency of updates to the COVID-19 dashboard.

• Implementation of online reporting during Winter Break.

• Procurement is purchasing/requesting cleaning supplies and PPE at every opportunity.

In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, provided from the school district:

Approval of Policy IKF – Graduation Requirements: Dr. Michael Waiksnis presented the second reading of Policy IKF – Graduation Requirements. The district administration is proposing a change to this policy to allow for the new state level South Carolina Diploma Seals of Distinction. The district would like to offer this state level recognition for our students who earn it and it would replace the district level diploma of distinction. The Board voted to approve this policy change.

Enrollment and Attendance Update: Dr. Chuck Epps presented the calendar of events for January. Students will return to school to face-to-face instruction under the five day model for elementary school and hybrid A/B day model for middle and high school on January 6. There is no school and offices will be closed for MLK Day on January 18. There is a Teacher Workday on January 25. Additionally, he presented an enrollment update and a monthly teacher attendance update.

First Reading of the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 Academic Calendars: Joe Burke presented initial drafts of the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 academic calendars. The new school year would start on Aug. 16 and end May. 26

These calendars follow the current legislation that requires school begin no earlier than the third Monday in August. Calendars will be reviewed and submitted for approval at the school board meeting scheduled for January 19, 2021.

Fort Mill School Board meetings can be viewed live or on demand on the district’s YouTube channel or with the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5GrSlq6jhGdFvBVjjxfu6A