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KCSD closes classrooms on governor’s emergency order
Meal Pick Up
Camden High School (CHS) food service employees assist a family with picking up a free lunch on Monday, the first day of mandated shut down of all public South Carolina schools due to impacts of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. County schools had already planned to shut down on Friday following S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster state of emergency order due to the number of COVID-19 cases here. The earliest classes will resume is Wednesday, April 1. (Martin L. Cahn/C-I)

No Kershaw County School District (KCSD) students reported to class Monday or today, and they won’t until at least Wednesday, April 1. The same goes for participating in any extracurricular activities, including sports. Instead, students will work from home using eLearning tools available through their district-issued tablets.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster originally declared a state of emergency on Friday in response to the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. As part of Friday’s declaration, McMaster ordered schools in Kershaw County, as well as Lancaster County, to shut down for 14 days. He did so because, according to the governor’s official website, “Kershaw and Lancaster counties are the only areas in the state in which there is evidence of community spread of the virus.”

However, during a second press conference on Sunday afternoon, McMaster expanded the shutdown to all public schools across the state, as well as all state universities, colleges and technical colleges. He urged private schools and daycare centers to do the same.

The governor’s declaration also includes the immediate suspension of all visitation at state and local correctional facilities in all 46 counties, restriction of visitation to nursing homes and assisted living facilities except for end-of-life situations, and the immediate enforcement of the state’s price gouging laws, among other measures. Sunday, McMaster also ordered that any local elections remaining in the month of March and April be postponed until after May 1. He also urged the public not to participate in any public gatherings involving more than 100 people. Even before then, many Kershaw County churches decided to move their services online or to their radio ministries.

On Friday, KCSD officials issued a press release announcing the school closures.

“KCSD principals and teachers will be in touch with students to provide additional details on students lessons,” district officials said in the statement, noting that the district maintains one-to-one device capability in all grades to use for eLearning activities.

“We will do everything to support both our staff and students during this unprecedented time,” KCSD Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins said in the release. “I have great confidence in the resilience of our schools and community to persevere through this challenge…. I understand the challenge this creates for some families, and I appreciate their cooperation and patience as we work through this together.”

Initially, the district was going to use both weeks for eLearning for students. Following the governor’s press conference on Sunday, the district updated its plans.

“We have learned today that we will be given flexibility with our schedule,” KCSD Executive Director of Community Relations Mary Anne Byrd said in a press release on Sunday. “We will have eLearning this week from March 16-20, but will have staff planning with no student instructional requirements for the next week (March 23-27)…. As we move through this process, I know you will have additional questions about the schedules beyond March 27; there will be further updates with more information as we move forward.”

For this week, teachers are providing students with information on their assignments and lessons via Google classrooms and be available to answer classwork questions via a variety of ways including Google chat, email, ClassDojo, or GoGuardian, Byrd said in the release.

Elementary and middle school teachers are keeping virtual office hours from 9 a.m. to noon; high school teachers’ office hours for eLearning are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Byrd also confirmed information disseminated by at least one of the district’s principals -- that a limited number of staff will be returning to school facilities and the district office on Wednesday. Except for these select employees, no one else will be allowed in the buildings for any reason. The buildings will be locked and no one will be available to assist visitors at the security doors.

On Saturday, the school district announced it would begin providing free breakfast and lunch pickups on Monday through the end of the governor’s declaration. Families are able to pick up the meals at the bus rider lines at Bethune and Blaney elementary schools, Camden High School and North Central Middle School. Breakfasts are available from 7 to 9 a.m. and lunches from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. District officials said they hope to find a way to provide both meals during a single pickup time instead of requiring separate trips.

“We don’t want the fact that our schools are closed to mean that our students lose access to their school breakfast and lunch meals. Misha Lawyer and our food service department have worked quickly with the state department of education to set this up so there is no break in service for our students,” Robbins said.

In addition, the free meals are not limited to students with free meal status. Robbins said that all children, age 18 and younger, may receive a free meal regardless of their meal status during the school year.

Students must be with whoever picks up the meal, and all food is “grab and go,” meaning they cannot be eaten at the schools. No one will be allowed in the buildings.

Breakfast items vary and may include cereal with milk, fruit, Fruit Frudels, whole grain Pop Tarts, cereal bars, milk, and juice. Lunches will consist of sandwiches, chips, fruit, fresh vegetables, and milk.

During Sunday’s press conference, S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said the state would work with each school district to assist with using buses to not only serve as WiFi hotspots -- something Kershaw County was already working on -- but to deliver food and instructional materials.

Byrd said Sunday evening that the district is not yet ready to deliver meals by bus, but may be able to do so in the near future.

Meanwhile, Byrd said the district had worked on a plan to provide internet connectivity to those students whose family may have not have internet service.

“We will put our buses with WiFi in our communities and work with local businesses and churches that may be able to provide access to their WiFi,” Byrd said on Friday. We will work with families on this issue.”

Spearman also announced that she was going to seek a waiver to suspend all federally mandated testing this spring.

“There’s no need for our teachers and our students to have the anxiety of what’s going to happen on testing, so we are going to ask to suspend those tests this year,” Spearman said.

Byrd said that graduation has not been cancelled or moved at this point, but that the district is taking things on a day-to-day basis. Graduation is currently set for Camden and Lugoff-Elgin high schools at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 30. North Central High School seniors will graduate at a special time, 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 29, so that people from across the county can attend in support of the school following a mid-January tornado that devastated the facility.

On March 7, the district announced that two high school students -- one from Camden and one from North Central -- had interned in KershawHealth’s emergency department when the first female coronavirus patient was brought into the hospital. Although they reportedly did not have face-to-face contact with the patient and were not thought to have been exposed to the virus, the district requested that the students and their siblings be isolated at home during the week of March 9 through 13.

On Friday, Byrd said she had no updates on those students.