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District 50 parents weigh options for fall amid pandemic

Are you comfortable with your child returning to the classroom in the fall?

Parents of school-aged children were tasked with answering that question as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend daily life.

Greenwood County School District 50’s reopening plan gives students three options for the 2020-21 school year: in the classroom full time, a hybrid A/B model that alternates between in-person and eLearning and a fully remote option.

Shannon Smith Hill decided the five-days-a-week option better suited her 15-year-old son, Braxton, who will be entering into the 10th grade at Emerald High School. Hill said the five-day option will work better for Braxton, who has all honors courses, an aerospace engineering class and an automotive class.

“I’m just a better hands-on learner,” Braxton said. “It took us a little bit to come up with that decision because it was between A/B and five days. We just went with the five-days option because that just basically gave me a better education with how I am.”

Hill initially wasn’t comfortable with Braxton attending full time, but once the district offered three options instead of two, Hill and Braxton decided he would pick the five-day option. The two hope that dividing students among three options will reduce classroom sizes and allow the district to implement more safety precautions.

“I’m very pleased with how things have been handled,” she said. “During this crazy time, I think they’re doing everything that they can. They’re just trying to give everybody options, and everyone has to do what’s best for their family.”

Hill isn’t sure any parent knows if they’re making the right decision, but she is doing whatever is best for her family and child.

“We’re just all hoping for the best,” she said.

Sarah Smith said her daughter, 7-year-old Scarlett, will also attend in-person classes full time. The rising second-grader at Merrywood Elementary is autistic, and even though she is high functioning and takes streamline classes, her mother said she still struggles.

“Us as parents can’t provide the education she needs at home versus what the school can provide with services,” she added. “It’s very important for her to stay on task and have a routine in her day-to-day life.”

Sarah and her husband discussed the A/B option but they didn’t think Scarlett would succeed on that schedule.

When schools closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah said she and her husband “failed miserably” at trying to teach Scarlett virtually. Scarlett had meltdowns and simply wasn’t adapting.

“It’s hard for her to adapt to changes like that, so we could not get the work completed,” she added.

Scarlett was chosen for virtual summer school, but the Smiths live in a rural area and don’t have access to Wi-Fi so Scarlett couldn’t attend. The lack of internet service is another reason she will attend in person.

Sarah said she and her husband could have found a way to get internet access if in-person wasn’t an option because they want Scarlett to be successful. Sarah’s parents have internet access, but her dad is 74-years-old and she did not think it would be fair for them to care for Scarlett, who is difficult to keep on task.

Scarlett’s friends are doing virtual learning because their parents felt strongly about keeping them home, Sarah said.

“Every family is unique in their ways,” she added. “She’s already a step backward so it’s going to take a lot to get her where she needs to be again.”

Tish Goff has two sons, Keagan and Kaleb, who will be doing different things for the 2020-21 school year. Keagan, 10, is going into the fifth grade at Hodges Elementary, while 5-year-old Kaleb will take a semester off before entering kindergarten.

Kaleb has special needs and was supposed to attend Rice Elementary, but Tish is concerned because he has higher risk for serious illness with COVID-19 and is unable to follow directions and social distance.

Tish went back and forth on what to do, and each time she thought she knew what was best for her sons, a new finding would present itself. She chose the A/B hybrid model for Keagan because it was the middle option and she thought he would experience the best of both worlds.

“We thought we would ease him back into school and see how things played out before we jumped full force back in,” she said.

Like Hill, Tish hopes class sizes will be smaller since most people she knows decided to send their children to school five days a week. Being a stay-at-home mom gives her flexibility so she can have both sons at home and be able to work with them. Still, she thinks she will need support from teachers because “she isn’t an educator.”

“I’m very blessed that I’m able to be here and can be flexible,” she said. “I can only imagine for the parents that have to get out there and work. It has been less stressful for me because I just haven’t had to deal with that aspect of it.”

Tish worries about her children’s education, especially Keagan’s because he’s at an age when being social is important. With Kaleb, she has concerns about the therapies he usually receives at school. He receives some home therapy services so the Goffs still have opportunities to provide that.

She thinks missing a semester while everything plays out isn’t going to be all that hurtful considering Kaleb is just in kindergarten.

“I feel like in kindergarten you can always say ‘let’s just retain if we need to,’ but with a fifth-grader, you have to keep them with their peers,” she said.

Contact reporter Jonathan Limehouse at 864-943-5644 or follow him on Twitter @jon_limehouse.

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