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Sumter schools to start virtually August 17, phase in some in-person classes

District officials also said they are postponing the start of athletic practices and workouts.

SUMTER COUNTY, S.C. — In a reentry plan update posted to Facebook Monday night, Sumter School District officials said classes will begin on August 17 in a completely virtual capacity and will phase into a "hybrid model."

District officials also said they are postponing the start of athletic practices and workouts due to a spike in COVID-19 cases across the state. No potential start date for athletics has been determined at this time.

RELATED: DHEC tracking speed of virus spread in South Carolina to determine school reopenings

The announcement follows a meeting of the district's Board of Trustees Monday evening. 

During the meeting, Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox recommended schools begin virtually and received unanimous support from the board.

In the reentry plan update, she cited a rise in coronavirus cases and feedback from parents, students and staff as reasons for the decision.

Since then, the district has received a mixed response from families online, with some pleased and others concerned about time spent away from the classroom, including challenges some students may face learning digitally.

Shelly Galloway, a spokesperson for Sumter Schools, tells News19 they've formed a task force to consider the different possibilities including:

  • Models for the school day
  • Accessible learning for all students
  • Bus and car transportation and schedules
  • Increased cleaning protocols and safety equipment 
  • Modified classroom setups and operations to maximize social distancing
  • “Traffic management” for front offices, cafeterias, libraries, hallways, and other multi-use areas

As for when virtual school will transition to something more typical, Galloway said the behavior of the virus will play a key role.

"The safety of our students and staff will always remain at the forefront of every decision that is made," Galloway said in a statement. "We will continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in our area in conjunction with the Governor’s Office, State Department of Education, DHEC, CDC, and the South Carolina High School League. Specific details regarding our reentry plan will be released as soon as the plan is finalized. We are grateful for the continued support, flexibility, and understanding demonstrated by our community."

The full reentry plan update released Monday is below:

As a result of COVID-19, we are now faced with an extraordinary challenge that will require the deployment of our individual and collective expertise to address the needs of our students, families, staff, faculty, and school communities. We continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in South Carolina, but specifically in our own community. According to DHEC, Sumter is currently categorized as a high risk community. Our incidence rate and positive rate are both categorized as high, and the trend in incidence rate is categorized as medium.

Based on this information and the insightful feedback we received from our surveys, the Sumter School District Reopening Schools Task Force continues to work diligently to finalize a reentry plan for the 2020-2021 school year. At the Board of Trustees meeting Monday evening, the Board approved starting school August 17, 2020 in a virtual capacity that will subsequently phase into a hybrid model. Specific details regarding this reentry plan will be released as soon as the plan is finalized.

In terms of athletics, Sumter School District administrators, athletic directors, principals, and coaches have been working carefully to develop a well-planned, intentional document that includes best practices for minimization of COVID-19 transmission during workouts, training, or competition; however, due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in our community and state, Sumter School District is postponing the start of athletic practices and workouts. No potential start date for athletics has been determined at this time.

The safety of our students and staff will always remain at the forefront of every decision that is made. We will continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in our area in conjunction with the Governor’s Office, State Department of Education, DHEC, CDC, and the South Carolina High School League.

For the Children,
Dr. Penelope E. Martin-Knox
Superintendent