Orangeburg County School District students who receive occupational and physical therapy will return to school next week.
District officials say other students will return in the next few weeks, but they have not yet set a firm date for in-person learning.
"Please note that will be a phased-in approach," Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster said during a Friday school board meeting.
"That will not be an immediate five day a week hybrid model. It will be a hybrid model that will look to provide services as we can maintain small class sizes,” he said.
"Also, we are in the process of shifting teachers around to ensure we can balance class sizes and keep the class sizes as small as possible and ensure it is equitable across the school district," Foster continued.
After bringing back students who receive occupational and physical therapy, the district will then seek to phase-in the return of other students, such as those who are self-contained or have special disabilities. Early learning students could follow a few weeks after.
Foster said families with students in occupational and physical therapy will be contacted with information on how classes and face-to-face instruction will be provided.
"They (state department) are going to also provide our district with Plexiglas for students’ desks and tables and, upon delivery of that Plexiglas, we will begin phasing in additional groups of students over the next few weeks or so," Foster said.
Board Chair Peggy James-Tyler and trustee R.L. "Poppy" Brown thanked Foster for his effort to ensure a safe return to in-person instruction.
"I applaud you for putting safety first," Brown said.
James-Tyler said, "It is not that we don't want our children back in school full-time, but we’ve got to be careful.
"We’ve got to be safe because they come first."
She said, "This is something new to all of us. We can hope and pray it will be out of here real soon. My prayer every night is that God will come and heal the land and get rid of the coronavirus."
Trustees went into closed session to discuss the matter because of “protected information” that was shared “particularly related to personnel with a return to an in-person model,” Assistant Superintendent for Communications and Community Partnerships Merry Glenne Piccolino said prior to the meeting.
At the start of the meeting, trustee Dr. William O'Quinn also asked the purpose of the executive session.
Foster informed him personnel matters would be discussed.
The board spent about an hour and 20 minutes behind closed doors.
Initially, the district had planned to offer an in-person instruction option on Sept. 14 before pushing the date back to Sept. 28.
School officials say they’re considering the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's assessment of county coronavirus data in determining when students should return to school.
The district is also monitoring COVID hospitalizations, infections and inpatient space capacity.
About 6,000 students have registered for Orangeburg Online through the end of the fall semester. The number is over half of the students in the district.
Orangeburg Online is the district's virtual instruction platform.