Florence One prepares to resume in-person learning as some voice concerns

Pee Dee

FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Monday will be the first day back in the classroom for many students in the Pee Dee.

Florence One Schools and Darlington County School District are both resuming their in-person learning models Monday, after the three virtual weeks that followed winter break.

The shift to in person has sparked some concern in Florence.

“To put these children and teachers in a small classroom for several hours a day is impossible to bear,” founder and executive director of the Isaac Wilson Project Isaac Wilson said. “Let’s stay out and see if these numbers have a steady decline.”

Wilson urged Florence One to put off going back to school in person.

“We have to be very proactive about this,” Wilson said in a short news conference. “I’ll be very blunt. If a teacher or student contracts COVID-19 from school the first thing we will hear is we should have never been in school in the first place.”

F1S superintendent Dr. Richard O’Malley says he has data to show that schools are not COVID spreaders.

“Our numbers have always been much different than the community,” he said. “We were in school for five months and what we saw was that schools were not spreading. As a matter of fact when you compare our numbers in December, for those three weeks we were in school, to the three weeks we were out, they’re identical.”

O’Malley says there were 60 positive cases among staff members during the three week remote period in January and there were 59 positives in December while the district was holding in-person learning.

“So it really doesn’t make a difference and I think our teachers, students and parents- when our kids are in school, their behavior changes to be even more cautious,” O’Malley continued.

He emphasized that families have been given a choice this school year. Monday, the district will have all three of its learning models up and running again- five days of in-person, a hybrid option and the Virtual Academy.

“We had almost 2000 people—parents in F1S that want to change, whether it’s face to face or a/b day. 70 percent of them want to come back 5 days a week,” O’Malley said. The community is saying we want our kids to come back.”

Florence One parents who want to change their student’s learning model must fill out a form by 4 p.m. Friday.

O’Malley said a lot of time has been spent preparing for Monday, from deep cleaning school buildings to ensuring PPE supplies are fully stocked.

“It’s almost like we’re starting back in September,” O’Malley said. “We’re starting fresh. We think we have enough data and enough practice of what occurred in the last five months to really ensure the schools are a healthy and safe environment.”

Some teachers still feeling some apprehension ahead of Monday.

“I have a lot of mixed feelings about Monday,” SC for Ed Pee Dee representative and Florence One teacher Robin Bowman said. “The idea that teachers cannot catch this virus from our children or from our students makes us feel very alone.”

O’Malley says teachers who are ‘medically fragile’ have had an option of doing virtual. Bowman says she’s heard concerns from teachers in the area. She urges parents to have children tested for COVID, and says there’s growing frustration as educators wait for the state to get them vaccines.

“A lot of teachers have felt that we have been shown how very little we matter,” Bowman said.”

DHEC lists teachers in Phase 1B. The state is still in Phase 1A.

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