Three Columbia-area school districts are planning to reopen their schools Monday, while two more won’t decide when they will reopen until at least Friday.
Richland 1 and 2 officials will decide Friday whether students will return to their schools Monday, officials said Thursday. Those decisions will hinge mostly on whether buses and parents with children can safely drive to school, officials said.
Richland 1 spokeswoman Karen York added that Richland 1 is also concerned about whether its schools will have adequate water pressure, which is necessary to keep restrooms working properly.
County and school district employees this week worked to assess bus routes, redrawing them around roads damaged by the historic flooding that inundated South Carolina this week. Richland 2 spokeswoman Libby Roof said Richland 2’s bus drivers would be driving their routes – some of them redrawn – on Friday to ensure that all are passable.
Officials from Richland 1 took helicopter rides over the past two days to survey affected areas and facilities in the district, York said. “We need to know that our buses would be safe in traveling the roads, so we’ve had folks out today with county officials assessing the road conditions to see whether they are safe for our buses to travel on,” York said.
Five Columbia-area school districts closed their doors all week. Some districts, including Richland 1 and 2, were hit harder than others.
Two districts – Lexington 3 in Batesburg-Leesville and Lexington 4 in Gaston and Swansea – didn’t suffer significant flooding complications and already have their schools back in operation.
Students in Lexington 1 in Lexington and Lexington 2 in Cayce-West Columbia will report to school on Monday with a two-hour delay, though Lexington 1 employees will work Friday and then report at the normal time Monday. The two-hour delay will allow for bus drivers and others driving to school to do so during daylight hours, said Jim Hinton, Lexington 2’s director of student services and institutional support.
Lexington-Richland 5 in the Irmo-Chapin area will be back for a normal school day Monday, with employees returning to school Friday.
Roof said Richland 2 officials are hopeful their schools will open Monday. If they do, the district would probably have a two-hour delay for an unspecified number of days. York wouldn’t speculate as to whether Richland 1 would have a delay if it reopens Monday.
Mark Bounds, chief information officer for Lexington-Richland 5, said the district’s decision to cancel school last week and to schedule a normal day for Monday depended on whether schools were safe, warm and dry; the safety of bus routes; the availability of water and meals for students and faculty; and input from local agencies and other school districts.
“We don’t make these decisions in isolation,” Bounds said. “We make them as part of a team.”
Bounds also said the district’s resource officers were called into help with flooding response and that re-opening schools this week would have pulled school resource officers away from helping with the flooding efforts. “We didn’t want to be a drain on an already strained public safety system,” Bounds said.
Several districts, including Lexington-Richland 5 and Richland 1, have schools in areas with boil-water advisories. Those districts worked this week to gather stores of bottled water in case the water still isn’t safe to drink when schools reopen.
Bounds said Lexington-Richland 5 has tens of thousands of water bottles – a three-day supply – for its 10 schools within a boil-water advisory zone.
District officials said Thursday they hadn’t yet decided how to make up the days missed so far because of flooding.