Students in Rock Hill, other SC districts return to school with new changes

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Students at one Rock Hill school got a very special greeting Monday as they returned to school for the first day of classes. Kids entering Sunset Park Elementary School were met with cheers from the community.

Those cheers came from students at Rock Hill’s Clinton College, who want to be a source of encouragement for kids at Sunset Park Elementary.

“I firmly believe a school is the center of community, and what you are seeing behind me is community,” said Superintendent Dr. Tommy Schmolze.

“If every kid can feel special at least that one day, I think that’s starting school the right way,” she added.

Schmolze said its all part of a partnership between Clinton College and the school district. College students will even act as mentors, helping kids at Sunset Park excel.

“They come and help us in the cafeteria during lunch, sit down with the kids and talk to them -- that makes all the difference,” she said.

Monday marked the first day of classes for students in several local districts: Ashe County, Lancaster County, Watauga County, Rock Hill, and Fort Mill.

This year in Rock Hill, the district is working to set students up for success by making sure every child has access to free meals while at school.

District leaders say when a child is hungry, they’re not able to focus on learning when they’re at school, so leaders are doing something about it. The school board has approved a pilot program that allows all schools in the district to serve both breakfast and lunch. It’s for all students at every school and there is no cost to them.

Students will not have to fill out free and reduced student meal applications to qualify.

Leaders are hoping it helps every child be able to focus on learning while at school. Leaders say they’ll monitor this program to evaluate its success and determine its financial viability next school year.

Students in the Lancaster County School District also go back to the classroom Monday. Some schools in the southern part of the county will offer free meals to all students, but not in Indian Land.

The district is participating in a new community eligibility program. Schools with a certain percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced meals can now offer free meals to every student at the school, regardless of their economic status.

None of the schools in Indian Land qualify.

The district can re-evaluate whether to spend its own money to expand the program next year.

More changes in Rock Hill

Another big change this school year is designed to help kids focus in class. Students will no longer be able to use cellphones during school hours.

Leaders made the change saying phones have become a big distraction from learning, but parents have mixed feelings about the rule.

Some parents said they survived school with no cellphone so kids today should do the same. Others have some real safety concerns.

The new policy says students have to turn phones off and put them away during school hours. They can be in a backpack or a locker, but students are not allowed to use them during the day.

Some parents say this is a good idea, but parent Rosie Jones told Channel 9 she likes to keep the line of communication open with her young son. She said this takes away her child’s ability to share with her during a personal emergency.

District leaders say this will cut back on things like bullying and distractions.

Other updates for SC schools

South Carolina teachers are celebrating a new law.

Gov. Henry McMaster was in Rock Hill last week for a ceremonial signing of the new parental leave law. It allows teachers and other staff to take up to six weeks off to welcome a new child -- that includes by birth, adoption or fostering.

Rock Hill Schools implemented this program as a pilot last year.

(WATCH RELATED: Cellphones banned from use in school in Rock Hill this year)