Making the Grade: What’s it take to outfit a school for a pandemic?

Making The Grade

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) — As the school year continues to loom ahead, districts across the country continue their trek through uncharted waters as they outfit classrooms for a pandemic.

That comes at a cost. It also can get overwhelming.

There’s the sanitizing stations. the masks. The plexiglass. The social distancing measures. They’re things many have become accustomed to over the past few months.

But will soon collectively act as a safety net keeping students and teachers healthy.

Actually, new safety procedures are being implemented at dozens of South Carolina districts, even before the school year begins.

“We are in the first week of the summer ARC program,” Steward Heights Elementary Principal Dr. Wendy Pace told us as she greeted students. “Our 5-K through 3rd grade students are here for instruction for math and reading.”

ARCs- or Academic Recovery Camps– are being held in person at 48 school districts in the Palmetto State this summer, as in Dillon County School District Four. They’re designed to help mainly struggling students get some math and reading in after months out of the classroom.

News13 was there during day four of the camp for Dillon 4.

“We had to think about every aspect that our children would come in contact with each other,” Dr. Pace said. “The staff. Loading the bus. Unloading the bus. Entering the building. Getting their lunch. Getting their breakfast.”

“It’s all practice for all of us. It’s all new.”

New- from taking students’ temperatures before they even step out of their car, to dousing their hands in sanitizer, to eating meals in classrooms, not cafeterias.

“I’m hoping that the kids who are here will be better prepared and hopefully the other kids will mimic these kids and follow the same procedures,” Dr. Pace said.

Officials at the South Carolina Department of Education say this can be a way for districts to run through some new ways of doing things on a smaller scale.

There’s a lot to brush up on.

The AccelerateED Task Force released pages of recommendations for the 2020-21 school year in June. The guidebook ranges in scope from PPE, to transit, to food service and beyond.

“Every aspect of learning will be affected. And that’s going to cost us,” Representative Terry Alexander (D) of Florence said.

He represents District 59 and is a member of the House Education and Public Works Committee.

“I think the General Assembly needs to take a look before we go back to deal with the budget for 2019-2020. And that’s what we’re going back to the General Assembly to do in September,” he said, mentioning he thought some money would need to be re-allocated to help some districts keep up.

He worries more about the ones with less funding to begin with.

“For those communities that do not have a good tax base, what does that put them in? What kind of position does that put them in?” he said. “That’s when they look to the General Assembly for assistance.”

 “We might be a day late and a dollar short,” he added.

One way districts are getting help is through the CARES Act.

South Carolina is getting over 216 million dollars in ESSER funds from the federal government. The money is mostly headed to local districts to help absorb the cost of adapting to a world with COVID-19.

There are a number of permissible uses of the funding, including bolstering technology and buying supplies.

DistrictESSER allocation
Darlington County School District$3,751,099
Dillon School District 3$498,988
Dillon School District 4$2,051,058
Florence One Schools$4,518,836
Florence County School District 2$460,919
Florence County School District 3$1,431,839
Florence County School District 4$560,267
Florence County School District 5$407,152
Georgetown County School District$2,608,344
Horry County Schools$14,010,483
Marion County School District$2,581,151
Marlboro County School District$1,733,039
Source: SC Dept. of Education

In Marion County School District Director of Operations Leon Sturkey’s office, boxes of supplies have been piling up as he readies buildings for the coming year.

“It’s a lot of planning that has to go into place. You have to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T.'”

It’s still not entirely clear what the start of the year will look like in Marion County.

But Sturkey said MCSD is looking down to the very last detail in making sure your child’s school is safe.

Measures the district is taking include installing plexiglass in office spaces, getting hand sanitizer stations up and disconnecting water fountains.

“Cleaning most throughout the day continuously, especially high traffic areas, doors, restrooms,” Sturkey also mentioned.

He said that CARES money would mostly going toward the district’s technology costs, but that it would help a bit with some of the operations costs.

Still, he said, some money may need to come from other sources.

“We think we may want to be a little above and beyond sometimes what is called for,” he said. “So there will be some things that may be coming out of our general fund as well.”

“We will adjust to do whatever we have to do again, to provide one, a quality education and in a safe environment,” Sturkey said.

It’s a mission districts across the country find themselves on as fall inches closer.

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