Classes or computers? DCSD asks if kids want to switch
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
At least some Darlington County public-school students will get a chance to switch from online learning to in-person classes, and vice versa, when the next semester starts in January. County Education Superintendent Tim Newman told the county school board last week that the school district was preparing to ask parents and students if they’re interested in changing their “mode of instruction.” Newman estimated that about 480 public-school students are interested in leaving all-online learning in favor of face-to-face education, and that about 180 are interested in going from in-person classes to online education. “This is the start of the process to find out how many students we want moving from one form to another,” Newman told the board Nov. 9. Ever since the Darlington County School District reopened its schools in September after six months of COVID-19 shutdowns ordered by Gov. Henry McMaster, the DCSD has in effect been operating three different school systems. Younger students are in face-to-face classes full-time. Middle and high-school students alternate between in-person classes and online instruction. And students who opted for the district’s Virtual Academy are online full-time. Newman feels that, if possible, the district needs to try to work a few more students back into the classrooms – if they want to go, and if the pandemic in South Carolina and the Pee Dee remains stable enough to allow it. “At some point in time,” Newman said, “(all of) our kids are going to be able to be back in class. There’s no doubt in my mind.” Newman said that asking parents and students if they’d like to switch “instruction modes” is a step in that direction. One thing that may give the DCSD some extra room for extra students in class is research by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control indicating that some type of plastic barrier in front of or around students could lessen the need for strict, 6-foot social distancing, such as the DCSD has been practicing. (Kids, however, would still wear masks.) “If we are still socially distancing (as usual) at the start of second semester for all of our grades,” Newman said, “(additional students) will be limited to the space that we have available in the building.” The application to switch learning modes is now on the district’s website at www.dcsdschools.org. Applications will be accepted through Nov. 30. Students who don’t want to apply to switch “will stay with their current learning mode until the end of the year,” the school district says. The district says it will try “to honor as many requests as possible based on space available in each school and grade level.” Students will be told in January if their request is accepted. Changes will take effect at the beginning of the second semester, which is Jan. 29 for high schools and Feb. 5 for elementary and middle schools. In material being shared with the public, the DCSD cautions that it might need to “adjust” its current 6-foot social distancing policy to work in more students per class.