Some private school students in Horry County will be returning to the classroom before their public school peers.
Both Conway Christian School and Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach confirmed they will each welcome back students on Aug. 17. Although Horry County’s public schools are not scheduled to reopen until the following month, officials with the private schools said they are taking additional precautions to ensure they protect students while still getting them back on campus.
“The biggest thing, I think, is to reopen the school with the safety of our students, faculty, staff and families as a top priority, but also being able to have our kids here in person so they can have a better educational experience,” CCS Principal Connie Smith said. “They just need to be here.”
Conway Christian officials sent their reopening plan to parents last week. Like the public schools, Conway Christian shifted to online-only instruction earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic upended education across the country. The school may turn to that method again, but CCS leaders plan to continue with in-person education as long as they feel they can safely do so.
“Just getting back to some normalcy,” said Victor Crawford, the chairman of the CCS board. “Obviously safety is our primary goal, but the overarching goal is to get kids back on campus as normal as possible.”
Their strategy for accomplishing that hinges on the cooperation of teachers and students' families. Parents are being asked to sign a liability waiver and a health screening agreement.
The CCS plan calls for the school’s facilities to see increased cleaning and sanitization, and the school will make efforts to group students to prepare for possible contact tracing, the process of identifying and contacting those who may have been exposed to a disease.
The school is also asking parents to check their children’s temperature before coming to school and to keep them home if a child has a fever of 100 degrees or higher. CCS will perform wellness checks and has a designated space for students who display any COVID-19 symptoms while at school. Any absences related to compliance with these policies will be excused.
If school leaders determine the environment is unsafe for daily in-person learning, they could shift to a hybrid model that involves a combination of on-campus and virtual instruction. Groups of students would be at the campus on alternating days. If conditions worsened, the final option would be an all-virtual approach with the goal of returning to campus when conditions are safe.
Flexibility is a key part of the CCS strategy.
“We’ll continue to have to adjust as things change,” Crawford said.
As for masks, those are optional for students and staff inside a classroom unless a teacher requires it because he or she falls into an at-risk group (COVID-19 has been more challenging for elderly individuals and those with underlying health problems). However, during times of transition — moving from class to class, arrival and dismissal — students and staff will be required to wear face coverings. That also applies to high-risk activities, such as singing in music class.
School officials said a few parents are electing to homeschool their children initially with the goal of eventually bringing them back, but they said most families support the policies and understand the need for them. CCS serves about 320 students in grades K-12.
“For the most part, I think our school families are ready to come back,” Smith said.
The school's reopening plan pulls from similar proposals developed by other private schools. CCS also considered the recommendations of federal and state health officials as well as local needs.
“We really tried to see what other people were doing,” Crawford said. “There’s a lot of smart people out there, and there’s a lot of schools that have a lot more resources than we do. … Our plan was derived from a collection of other people’s plans and best practices. … We just kind of pulled those things together in what fit our community and our kids the best.”
Katherine Cannon, head of the Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach, said their students will also return for five-day, in-person learning.
According to their reopening protocols, the school will be monitoring hand washing and sanitizing, doing additional daily cleaning throughout the school building, and they had new UV lights installed in their duct work to kill viruses and bacteria.
“We recognize that during this time, families and children, and in our community and nation, people have been impacted in a variety of ways from COVID-19,” said their re-opening statement on their website.
Christian Academy leaders will do temperature screenings at the school if needed, and ask parents to screen temperatures and other health concerns at home. Students who present with symptoms of fever, sore throat and coughing will be isolated.
Academy leaders said they are expecting more students this fall.
“We have seen an increase in enrollment, which we’re very grateful for,” Cannon said, noting there are waiting lists for some grades. “We make that determination on enrollment per grade.”
The school’s plan also says Christian Academy leaders have reduced class sizes, and they plan to cut down on sharing materials. Dismissal procedures will be modified, and the school plans to increase opportunities for outdoor recesses, lunch, classes and activities.
Masks will only be worn by individual preference.
“Choices will be respected,” the school’s protocol said.