Photos of local elementary school plexiglass setups that circulated on social media over the last week were misleading, said Aynor Elementary School Principal Reggie Gasque.
“The photos were not taken by a staff member,” Gasque said. “We gave the teachers an opportunity to come in on Sunday [when setup was completed] to make adjustments, but most of them chose to spend time doing that Monday.”
The photo was taken before any shifts had been made to fit better into the classroom space, he said.
The plexiglass, installed per the school district and paid for by the S.C. Department of Education, is in the process of installation in elementary schools across the district, and AES is the first one completed.
Installation in all schools in the district cost the SCDOE upwards of $4 million.
According to school district officials, the Department of Health and Environmental Control recently changed their recommendations to say that if students have plexiglass separating them from other students, they can be three feet apart (with masks) instead of six feet, therefore fitting more students into the classrooms.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Gasque said. “The adjustment has gone well.”
The students began attending school the Monday before Thanksgiving with the plexiglass in place, he said, and the children have been very receptive.
“They like having their own personal space, some called it their ‘personal office,’” Gasque said. “They are very resilient.”
In AES, the child development areas and kindergarten classrooms have small round tables, which are divided into fourths by plexiglass on top of the desks. In the higher grades, the individual desks that are set up in rows or “quad” setups of four have the taller plexiglass configurations that sit directly on the floor.
Ashley Poston, a first-grade teacher and Aynor Elementary’s Teacher of the Year, said that most of the childrens’ first reaction to seeing the installation was “Wow!”
Poston said that the plexiglass wasn’t a surprise to the majority of the children, since the teachers had spoken with them about what to expect, and she thought many parents likely spoke to them as well.
The district has said that the plexiglass installation is the next move in getting students back to five-day face-to-face instruction.
“The students are excited to be here, and I’m just as excited to see them,” Poston said.
This week, parents in the district received an email with instructions on how to transfer their child from HCS Virtual to in-person school, or vice versa, if they so chose.
Any decision made this month will be final for the spring semester, the district said. There will be no opportunity for families to change their mind later.
As for the plexiglass causing any issues with students being able to see or hear, Poston said there haven’t been any problems.
“We have technology to help with that,” Poston said, saying that if there is a student that is unable to see well, the teacher can share the screen with the student on the student’s electronic device, or similar fixes.
Elementary schools have an advantage in terms of cleaning the plexiglass, in that the student desks aren’t shared by other students, and don’t require cleaning in between classes that middle and high schools will have to do.
The elementary school plexiglass is cleaned by the janitorial staff after school each day.
District officials said that the next schools in line for completion were Green Sea Floyds Elementary, South Conway Elementary, and Loris Elementary. All elementary schools are slated to be completed by the Christmas holiday.
As of Thursday evening, the HCS COVID-19 dashboard showed 74 current cases of the virus in district schools, with 47 current student cases and 27 current staff cases.