Board pushing to reopen Darlington schools
By Bobby Bryant
The Darlington County School Board seems determined to try to restart the county’s 25 public schools, which Gov. Henry McMaster shut down in March because of the COVID-19 threat.
But as of last week, members weren’t sure how.
After a four-hour work session Friday, the board was bracing to make very tough decisions Monday night at its regular monthly meeting on when and how to attempt reopening some or all of the county’s public schools, even if on a limited basis, with students alternating between classroom days and online-learning days.
Board members were considering beginning the fall semester Aug. 10 or 17.
“There’s no right or wrong answer,” board chairman Warren Jeffords told board members Friday. “We can’t sit back and keep our kids home forever. We’ve got to try something.”
“We have got to educate the kids,” board member Jamie Morphis said. “ … It’s going to be difficult. … It is not normal times, people.”
“This is temporary,” board member Wanda Hassler said. “We will get through this. … It’s a challenge I think we can meet.”
But Hassler cautioned that things won’t be the same for a while. “Face to face” education is likely to change dramatically across the nation as educators try to put kids back in classrooms, even part-time, while at the same time protecting them from COVID-19 with masks, “social distancing” and frequent wipedowns of surfaces all over schools.
“If anybody thinks going back face to face is going to be anything like it was (before), we’re deluding ourselves,” Hassler said.
State health officials have placed Darlington County in the “medium” or “moderate” risk category based on its COVID-19 infection numbers. It’s one of only a few S.C. counties falling into that middle range.
County Education Superintendent Tim Newman said he would like to see county schools operating five days a week, even if they must limit class sizes and alternate students between classrooms and computers. But he emphasized that even the board’s “final” decisions may not be final for long, because the COVID-19 crisis is constantly going to be changing.
“Whatever decisions we talk about today … may not be precisely what we’re doing,” Newman said.
Morphis said the board must think in terms of getting as many students back into the classrooms as possible. And he asked whether the district’s online classes could be made more user-friendly by simply putting a video camera in classrooms and letting students watch traditional classes from home.
Depending on how the board wants to proceed, Newman said, school schedules would likely change for the fall. One reason for that: School buses would need more time to make their routes because “social distancing” would mean the buses would carry fewer students.
Another issue not yet resolved: Whether Darlington County schools will be able to play fall sports like football and basketball.