Students in Richland 1 schools will return to class Wednesday for the first time since the historic flooding that inundated South Carolina last week.
Superintendent Craig Wilson and other district officials announced Tuesday they are comfortable enough with water pressure and redrawn bus routes throughout the nearly 500-square-mile district to open Richland 1’s doors again. The schools will open under a two-hour delay for the rest of the week, and staff will report to schools after a one-hour delay on Wednesday.
“We are not completely out of the woods yet, but the roads are safe enough at this present point in time that we can travel to pick up our students,” said Cheryl Harris, chairwoman of the Richland 1 school board.
Witherspoon said the situation would be a “work in progress,” adding that bus routes may change fluidly as roads are repaired.
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“This will be a long-term effort in terms of the changing dynamics with transportation and also getting our buildings back to where they need to be as well,” Witherspoon said.
Four Columbia-area school districts reopened Monday, three of them with a two-hour delay. Lexington 3 in Batesburg-Leesville and Lexington 4 in Gaston and Swansea were not heavily affected and reopened last week. Richland 1 was the only area district still closed Tuesday.
“Our district was heavily impacted by the floods a little bit more severely than some of our surrounding districts,” Harris said. “But our superintendent and some of his staff have been very busy on the reopening of schools.”
Of the district’s more than 675 bus routes, 344 had to be redrawn around road closures, said Kathleen Joye, Richland 1’s transportation director. She said the Lower Richland community, where some low-lying areas still had standing water on Monday, was the district’s most heavily affected area.
More than half of Richland 1’s students ride buses, Witherspoon said.
The district’s classrooms are mostly fine, though two media centers and two auditoriums will be closed when students return Wednesday, said Melvin Henry, Richland 1’s maintenance services director. Henry said Richland 1 schools have “sufficient quantities of bottled water” to get through the boil-water advisory in effect for many areas of Richland County.
“Considering the severity of our floods, Richland 1 is in good shape,” Henry said.
Even with the changed bus routes, washed out-dirt roads and other complications from flooding have made some areas inaccessible for buses, Witherspoon said. Richland 1 will work with parents of students in those areas to get the children to a point where a bus can pick them up, he said.
Witherspoon said the district is still assessing the flooding’s financial impact. He said the district will be making a Federal Emergency Management Agency claim but that the size of that claim is not yet finalized.