After 6 months, kids return to classes
By Bobby Bryant
This week, about 7,000 Darlington County public-school students are returning to in-person classes for the first time since COVID-19 closed county schools’ doors six months ago.
And the key to reopening the county’s two dozen or so public schools came down to one sentence spoken by county Education Superintendent Tim Newman during a school board meeting Sept. 14: “Based on what I’m looking at,” Newman said, “I’m ready for our students to get back in school.”
By a vote of 6-1, with Charles Govan voting no and Connell Delaine absent because of illness, the school board endorsed Newman’s plan for bringing students back to class Sept. 21 – younger students full-time, older students part-time. This plan will be used for at least a month, then officials will review how well it’s working.
Elementary-school grades (K-5) will return to school “face to face” five days a week, partly because district officials feel that it will be relatively easy to “social-distance” them and partly because officials feel the younger children most need in-person learning.
Middle-schoolers and high-schoolers (grades 6-12) will return to class part-time. They will use what officials call an “A/B” schedule, with some attending classes in person on Mondays and Wednesdays, others on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When not physically in class, they will learn online.
Special-education, “self-contained” students in grades K-12 will attend class in person five days a week during the next month at least.
The plan will not affect students already signed up for the district’s year-long Virtual Academy, a totally online education system. About 3,700 students opted for the Virtual Academy.
The board’s decision appears to clear the way for at least a limited schedule of high-school football games. Officials said COVID-19 precautions would be in use and the number of spectators in the stands would be limited to 25 percent of normal.
Five-day, in-person classes for all public-school students is the district’s goal, but officials will approach that goal cautiously, monitoring students’ health and monitoring COVID-19 data step by step.
“Over the past few weeks, the reports have indicated that the numbers of infections and cases are declining in Darlington County,” said Warren Jeffords, chairman of the school board.
“We are eager to get students safely back to in-person learning. Other schools and districts around us have returned successfully.
“We have the safety procedures in place and we will strictly enforce them. We believe our students learn best in a classroom and we want to provide them that opportunity in a safe manner.”
The district officially resumed school Sept. 8, but decided to make it online-only for at least the first two weeks. That frustrated some parents who protested on the school district’s Facebook page.
Board member Richard Brewer applauded the board’s decision to move toward in-person classes.
“We can’t afford to keep these kids out any longer,” he said. “They really need to get back to school because they are falling behind.”