Taking every precaution

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Beaufort Academy the 1st area school to return to the classroom

By Mike McCombs
Photo by Bob Sofaly

They are the canaries in the coal mine.

On Wednesday, Aug. 12, 337 children, from kindergartners to 12th-graders – including 115 new students – started their school year at Beaufort Academy’s campus on Lady’s Island, making BA the first school in northern Beaufort County with in-person learning for the 2020-21 school year.

So far, so good.

“We had a great first day back,” Beaufort Academy Director of Communications Lisa Gallagher said. “Our re-opening plan has guided us in a good way, and our teachers, staff and students are adapting well. As with anything new, we will need time to adjust. … I have not heard one student complain about our ‘new normal.’ Our staff worked hard to make the first day as smooth as possible, and it absolutely showed.”

Beaufort Academy is offering both on-campus and at-home live instruction simultaneously. Students and parents were given the option and, according to Gallagher, for most students and parents, being in the classroom was worth the annoyances of masks, shields, and social distancing. Only around 35 students chose at-home instruction, she said.

“Our campus is ideal for a school reopening,” Gallagher said. “We were able to comply above and beyond with DHEC and CDC recommendations while maintaining smaller class sizes and utilize our college style campus.”

In late June, Beaufort Academy made public “Envisioning A New Normal – A Plan For A Responsible Reopening At Beaufort Academy.” The nine-page document laid out a framework for students to as safely as possible return to school this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, if they so chose.

At the time, BA Head of School Dan Durbin said that even with the plan, there were still things his committee was trying to figure out and that Durbin, the school, the parents and the students had to be open to adjustments on the fly should the unforeseen arise.

Last week, Durbin was happy with the way the first few days went.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the team effort our students, parents, teachers and staff have displayed this first week,” Durbin said via email. “Keeping students and staff safe is our top priority and requires everyone to be committed to the reopening plan. Fortunately, everyone is taking the effort seriously and working to protect themselves and others.”

Gallagher highlighted parts of the reopening plan she thought had been keys to BA’s success. They included the school’s ability to hold lunch outdoors, the option between at-home and on-campus instruction, the electrostatic sanitation of all school common areas, the fact that every BA classroom has an interior and exterior entrance, the required wearing of face masks and the use of Z-shields.

In addition, each student has his or her temperature taken twice a day and hand sanitizer is available everywhere.

“We tried to think of everything,” Durbin said.

That being said, there will obviously be adjustments to be made, and the situation could change at any time.

“Of course, we’ve had a few issues to hammer out,” Durbin said. “For teachers the biggest hurdle seems to have been getting accustomed to new technology. Students seem to struggle a little bit with wearing a mask properly. Regardless, everyone has done a great job of working together for the benefit of all.”

Mike McCombs is the Editor-in-chief of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com. Bob Sofaly contributed to this story.


Top photo: Students at Beaufort Academy sit four to a table with plexiglass shields between them. When lunch is over, teachers may use the outdoor, shaded area for instructional purposes to give the students a break from wearing the mask all day. 

Bottom photo: Seniors at Beaufort Academy got to paint their own parking spaces on Thursday, Aug. 13. Here, Maeve Kaladay, June Ward and Connor Aivaz put the finishing touches on their parking spots as their school reopened for in-person lessons.