DCSD’s goal: All classes ‘face to face’ by Feb. 22

Elementary students have been in class full-time since schools reopened in September. This photo from Brockington Elementary Magnet School in Darlington shows social distancing. PHOTO BY DCSD

By Bobby Bryant

Editor

editor@newsandpress.net

Feb. 22 is the Darlington County School District’s target date for returning all students to in-person classes five days a week, except for those who have enrolled in the district’s full-time Virtual Academy. “At this point in time, the plan is to have all of our high schools and middle schools start face-to-face (full-time) Feb. 22, which gives us two weeks from today,” county Education Superintendent Tim Newman told the county school board at its regular meeting Feb. 8. “Parents, teachers, students, you need to plan on being back five days a week, face to face, starting Feb. 22,” he added. (But plans could change if COVID-19 infection numbers suddenly rise within the school district or in the area.) “I know there’s apprehension out there,” Newman said. “ … I understand there’s apprehension out there. And all I can say is that we will do everything we can to protect our employees and give them the safest environment possible for working, but we have to get our kids back in school. We’ve got to them back here five days a week. …” The district has been moving toward getting as many students back in the classroom as possible ever since Darlington County public schools reopened in September 2020 after being shut down for most of the spring on the orders of Gov. Henry McMaster, who closed all S.C. public schools to fight the COVID threat. Since September, Darlington County’s 25 or so public schools have been operating under three different strategies. Elementary schools have been holding classes in person five days a week because officials believe the youngest kids need the personal attention most. Middle and high schools have been dividing students’ time between “face to face” classes and online classes at home. A full-time Virtual Academy has been set up for students who opted for five-day-a-week online education at home. (Despite “rumors” that the Virtual Academy might be phased out once public schools were able to return to full-time “face to face” classes for all grade levels, Newman said that is not the case; all students who enrolled in the Virtual Academy and want to stay with it will be allowed to continue full-time online instruction.) Strict COVID precautions will continue after all grade levels return to full-time classes, Newman said. All students and staff will wear face masks. The district is also setting up clear plastic desktop shields, which will allow officials to put more students in each classroom. Experts believe that these plastic “partitions” will let schools reduce “social distancing” from 6 feet to 3 feet without compromising COVID protection. Newman said COVID numbers “continue to decrease” within the school district, and new infections seem to be dropping statewide. “The trend is moving in the direction that it needs to, from my perspective.” Newman said the district hopes to begin vaccinating teachers and staff within weeks, if things work out as planned. About 30 percent of employees say they are undecided about taking the COVID vaccine, he said. The superintendent praised district employees for their work during the crisis and for their ability to quickly change how they must do their work. Newman recommended, and the board agreed, to give all full-time district employees a second $500 bonus in addition to the bonus they received at Christmas. Newman said the employees should be “rewarded over and above what we normally reward them.” Part-time employees will get $250. Another issue brought before the school board last week was “remediation” – helping students who have fallen behind for one reason or another during the COVID crisis. Board member Jamie Morphis was especially concerned about this. Morphis said the district lacks a fleshed-out plan for remediation. “We’ve got problems. We’ve got a major issue. I’d like to see a game plan.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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