‘We’re so excited’: What to know about the first day of school in Rock Hill area

Tracy Kimball

It’s that time of year again. Summer has come to an end and students must get used to early mornings, bus rides and homework again.

Schools across York, Lancaster and Chester counties will welcome its thousands of students back Monday for the first day of school.

Here’s what families should know ahead of the first day for each district.

Rock Hill Schools

York County’s second-largest district will be full this year. The district has more than 16,700 students enrolled and despite a national teacher shortage, it’s filled 98% of its teacher and staff positions, Superintendent Tommy Schmolze said during the district’s back-to-school forum Tuesday.

“We’re so excited about this school year,” Schmolze said. “First of all, we hope we’re in a normal school year, knock on wood. What COVID has done has basically drove a wedge between the community and the schools.”

And the district is hoping to fix that.

“That’s what this next school year is about,” Schmolze said. “It’s about recalibrating where we are, refocusing all our attention back into the classroom so that everybody can be successful.”

Rock Hill schools has implemented a few changes this year, including start times. The district had to adjust its bell times to account for a shortage in bus drivers, he said.

The district’s 14 elementary schools will start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:10 p.m. Its five middle schools will start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m. And its three high schools will start at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m.

Additionally, district officials are aware of parents’ heightened safety and security concerns after a recent nationwide rise in school shootings and they’re doing all that’s possible to try to put those at ease, the district’s Director of Safety and Security Andrew Jones said.

“We want to be the most prepared district that never has to experience a significant incident like that,” Jones said.

The district has implemented numerous safety measures, including thousands of cameras, 30-plus school resource officers and door-monitoring systems, to ensure students and teachers in the district’s 24 schools are safe, Jones said.

All districts in York, Lancaster and Chester counties adopted the same standard response protocol from the “I Love U Guys” Foundation, a national group focused on school safety, which helps schools operate in emergency situations as quick as possible, Jones said.

“If we ever have to help each other with a mutual aid incident, we all are using the same thing,” Jones said. “The beautiful part is if we have a teacher working at one school and they get moved to another school, they are already trained.”

The district also has a new food service management company this year, which means students can expect new meals, the district’s Food Service Contract Administrator Gary Black said. Students and parents check out the new menus on the district’s website.

Fort Mill Schools

The largest school district in York County is Fort Mill, where administrators expect more than 18,000 students this year. Not all of them will start Monday. Fort Mill has staggered single-day kindergarten starts by birth month (January through March goes Monday, etc.), through Thursday. Then all kindergarten students come together on Friday.

Elementary Schools will run 7:35 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. this year. Middle schools are 8:10 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. and high schools are 8:40 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Changes this school year include the return of paid breakfast and lunch, after districts throughout the area saw prices waived through a federal program during the pandemic. Parents can pay with cash, check or online for meals at $1.35 for breakfast, $2.25 for elementary school lunch or $2.50-$3 for middle or high school lunch.

The district won’t perform contact tracing or quarantines for COVID-19 this year, but will use state health department guidelines for how parents should report cases or when to keep students home.

Information for parents from student grades to bus sign-ups to ways of keeping in contact with the district are available online. There’s also a district tip line online where reports can be logged for student safety issues. A district app available in Apple and Google stores offers access to the tip line and other online resources.

At a school board meeting earlier this week, superintendent Chuck Epps said at best it’s been a timid start to school the past couple of years with lingering COVID-19 impact. It hasn’t been normal, he said. He’s more hopeful for this new school year.

“I think everybody is just so ready to be normal,” Epps said.

York School District One

YSD1 is ready for its 5,000-plus students to return.

The district’s five elementary schools will open at 7:15 a.m. and students will be dismissed at 2:15 p.m.

Parents and students can find the different bell schedules for 5th and 6th grades at York Intermediate on the school’s website.

The district’s middle school and high school will open at 8:15 a.m. and students will be dismissed at 3:35 p.m. And the district’s technology center will open at 8:15 a.m. and students will be dismissed at 3:45 p.m.

Families can find bus assignments through the parent portal, the district said. If a student’s transportation information isn’t available on the portal, parents should contact the student’s school, the district said.

Clover School District

The Clover School District, home to the state’s eighth-largest high school, will welcome its nearly 9,000 students back.

The district’s seven elementary schools will start at 7:35 a.m. and end at 2:10 p.m. Its two middle schools start at 8 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. And Clover High School starts at 9 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.

Ahead of the school year, the district added over a hundred new staff members, who’ve already participated in an orientation and new-employee boot camp, the district announced.

The growing district is in the midst of trying to add a second high school. The Clover school board voted earlier this month to add a question to the general election ballot in November requesting funds for a new 2,100-capacity high school on district-owned land in Lake Wylie.

In September, the board pushed a bond referendum that would have paid for a second high school, an eighth elementary school, transformed the district’s ninth grade campus into a third middle school and renovated Clover High. However, the area’s voters turned it down.

The district’s continual growth isn’t slowing down. Clover High’s class of 2022 was its largest ever with 648 students. By 2025-26, officials anticipate the district’s enrollment to reach nearly 10,000 students.

Lancaster County School District

Nearly 14,000 students will return to the Lancaster County School District this year.

The district said on its website that parents should expect bus riders to arrive home a little later during the first few weeks of schools.

“Please remember during the first couple of weeks schools are very slow loading students in an effort to ensure children are not placed on wrong buses,” the district said.

Parents and students can find the start and end times for the district’s 23 schools on its website.

This year, the district implemented a clear bag policy that will require anyone who comes to sporting events or other designated school events to carry personal items in a large clear bag. Those interested in attending Lancaster County school events can get more information about the policy on the district’s website.

Chester County School District

Chester County schools will welcome back nearly 5,000 students.

Parents and students can find the start and end times for the district’s schools online.

The district will host a virtual back-to-school town hall on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. Parents can submit questions to ask staff on the district’s website.

This year, the district will continue offering free meals for all students through the Community Eligibility Program. Families do not have to fill out meal applications.