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Back to school: Fort Mill announces return to in-person learning

The district cited CDC information, a decline in COVID-19 cases and the push to vaccinate teachers across South Carolina.

FORT MILL, S.C. — Middle and high school students in the Fort Mill School District will soon return to the classroom as the district announced its plan to resume in-person learning for its oldest students.  

Under the plan, which was announced Monday, middle and high school students will have five days of in-person learning by March 15.

Students who selected the face-to-face learning model will continue with face-to-face instruction. Students who are learning virtually will remain virtual. The district said it is unable to make changes.

Joe Burke, chief communications officer for Fort Mill School District, said these plans were communicated to students and parents.

“We said, ‘Look, our goal is to go back five days, so if you’re choosing A/B, just know that there’s a chance that we will be back five days once we feel it’s safe to go there,’” Burke said.

Fort Mill School District officials said they made the decision to resume full-time in-person learning based on a decline in COVID-19 cases for the area, as well as the CDC's report stating schools can safely reopen and a push for South Carolina teachers to get vaccinated for the coronavirus. 

"We feel that it's best to have kids in the classroom for education to fully function the best ways possible,” Burke said.

Elementary students were already enrolled in full-time in-person classes. 

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"Providing a safe and healthy education environment for our students and staff remains the district's top priority," the district said in a statement. "We will continue to monitor the situation in our area and make any adjustments needed."

RELATED: 'Disappointing' | CMS high school students react to first day back on campus

Parents have differing reactions to the news.

An online petition has thousands of signatures calling Fort Mill School District’s decision to reopen five days a week “blatantly irresponsible and dangerous.”

Chris Powers’ son Mathew is a junior at Fort Mill High School. Powers said Mathew has been attending school under the hybrid face-to-face model and is now expected to transition to five days a week of in-person learning.

"I do not believe that the metrics put in place by the CDC are where we need to be for going back, you know, face-to-face full time,” Powers said.

Powers said his biggest fear is that his son will get COVID-19 himself or bring it home.

"I would like the hybrid to remain the option, and I think they should give everyone an option to change if they feel so and they need to do so,” Powers added.

Jennifer Belk’s daughter Julia is also a junior at Fort Mill High School. Belk said her daughter has asthma, which is a concern.

Belk said she has left it up to her daughter to decide how she is most comfortable learning this year. She said her daughter went to school virtually the first semester and switched to the hybrid face-to-face this semester.

Belk said Julia is extremely careful and follows COVID-19 safety precautions to take care of herself and those around her. She would like to see the district allow students to have the option to switch learning models if necessary.

"She'll be fine,” Belk said. “It's not her first choice, but if we can get it switched, if there was any school district that could as far as parent interaction, it's this one."

Angie Wood, a parent, told WCNC she thought Fort Mill School District did the best job of any local district in offering families options before the year started.  

Wood wrote on Facebook, “They made it very clear that you were locked in once you made your choice and that the end-game for the hybrid schedule was to return to 5 days a week. I don’t think parents should be complaining at this point. And for our family, our 7th grader is struggling this year. The hybrid students don’t have access to any teacher help on their days at home, and his grades are reflecting that.”

RELATED: New grading system promoted to help students could cause harm, CMS teachers say

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