FLORENCE, S.C. — With confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Carolina, schools, technical colleges and universities are taking precaution against the virus.
According to the South Carolina Department of Health Environmental Control, there are 13 cases of the coronavirus.
Though there are no reported cases in the Pee Dee area at this time, Florence One Schools has created a plan to help prevent the spread of germs in schools and to ensure instructional time is not lost if schools are closed.
Superintendent Richard O’Malley said he thinks the district has a great plan if the schools close and the teachers and principals are ready.
“I think we’re well prepared for everything that comes our way to continue our education, continue to feed students and continue to try to get through this together,” O’Malley said.
Teachers have begun preparing lesson plans for five days of school that children can complete using their district-issued Chromebooks.
The district is taking inventory of students who do not have access to internet at home to give them an alternative way to complete school work. In the case that a student does not have access to the internet, each class has a set of books that can be issued to children to take home.
O’Malley said the district is also looking to possibly leave Wi-Fi-enabled school buses in those neighborhoods where students may not have Wi-Fi or at a community location such as a church. O’Mally said the district is also looking to work with AT&T, which the district already works with, to see if there’s a way to provide some internet access to kids as well.
Some students depend on meals served at school, O’Malley said.
To combat the possibility of students going without food, Florence One has applied for a waiver to allow the district to go into the summer feeding program to provide meals at various schools and community locations across the district.
The district has also put an emphasis on cleaning.
School buses are cleaned every day after each route, morning and afternoon. Classrooms have received sanitizers and wipes, and the custodial staff has been given a refresher on best cleaning practices.
At Francis Marion University (FMU), students are just starting their spring break.
As a precaution against COVID-19, the university canceled all international trips, deployed more custodial staff, placed additional sanitizer stations on campus and posted hygiene tips across campus. FMU also contracted specialists to clean and disinfect classrooms, laboratories and common areas on campus.
FMU had five students studying abroad for the spring semester, three in France and two in Ireland. All five students will be home today or early this week.
Matt McColl, director of media relations at FMU, said the university has put together a special task force of faculty members, deans and chairs and senior staff members.
The COVID-19 task force has been meeting twice a day examining developments across the region, state and country to determine how the university should proceed.
“It’s a constant contact with faculty, I’d say,” McColl said.
On Monday morning, McColl said, the task force will meet, and it’s likely that after the meeting FMU President Fred Carter will decide to move to remote instruction the week after spring break.
At the Darlington County Schoold District board meeting on Monday, Superintendent Tim Newman said his staff was spending a lot of time preparing for the effects of coronavirus.
Newman said the district would be taking its lead from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about decisions related to closings or identification of cases.
He said the district was making preparations, including the collection of cleaning supplies and disinfectants. He said the district made it known last week to have hand sanitizer in every classroom and office space within the district.
Another aspect of preparation is distance or e-learning.
Each student in Darlington has an electronic device thanks to the district’s one-to-one initiative.
Newman said the district is exploring what e-learning in this scenario would look like.
“We are getting everything prepared for that,” Newman said. “Again, working with our schools, working with our technology department, our instructional technology department, our curriculum instruction departments as well.”
He said the schools would be working to make sure that all students have access to the systems they need to learn from a distance.
Newman said it was important that the district be able to respond quickly to a changing situation.
Ed Bethea, interim president of Florence-Darlington Technical College, said the situation is pretty fluid. The students return from spring break this week, and the students will be on a regular schedule.
All of that could change rapidly depending on the circumstances, Bethea said.
Bethea said the college is looking to take as many classes online as it can; however, for technical courses, such as welding, industrial maintenance and machine tool technology, it will be hard to teach those entirely online.
“We’re working on a plan to go online if we have to, as much as possible,” Bethea said. “We may go online in some hybrid fashion.”
In addition to working on a plan to move classes online, FDTC has also started deep cleanings across campus and added more sanitizing stations across campus.
In the meantime, Bethea said, the college is monitoring the situation for an outbreak in the area.
For more information about the coronavirus preparations from FDTC, FMU, Florence One or Darlington County School Districts, there are web pages dedicated to keeping the public informed on their actions.