DCSD’s Virtual Academy to be a permanent option?
By Bobby Bryant Editor
The Darlington County School District’s Virtual Academy — a full-time, online-only educational option for students during the COVID-19 crisis — may not vanish when the pandemic does. During a school board work session Sept. 28, county Education Superintendent Tim Newman said he would like to continue the Virtual Academy permanently, in a smaller form, even when the pandemic is eventually controlled. “We will have a Virtual Academy of some type going forward,” he said. “ …. I think it is a choice option for parents that we haven’t had.” About 3,700 students enrolled in the DCSD’s Virtual Academy for this school year. Newman indicated that if the program continues after the pandemic threat is over, he’d expect a far smaller enrollment, maybe 500 to 1,000 students. School board member Jamie Morphis of Hartsville, who has often stated his belief that the best education is face to face in a classroom, had some questions about Newman’s idea. “Are we saying that, going forward, we’re always going to be a virtual school as well now?” Morphis said. “ … This really confuses me, because that’s new to me. … I had no idea that this was going to be a long-term game.” Morphis said he wasn’t necessarily dead-set against such a plan, but he said that school board members needed to realize it could have big implications for things like capital improvements and the number of teachers the district needs. “That changes our prospects for any type of capital improvement,” Morphis said. “We don’t need (as many) facilities. We don’t need new schools. We don’t need (as many) classrooms. … We’ve got to really increase our teachers. … Now we’re talking about offering two different options long-term. … This is going to impact our budget, our number of teachers, our number of classes.” “This is a whole ’nother work session here,” Morphis said. Newman agreed that much more discussion of the idea was needed, but he indicated that he didn’t think the impact would be as great as Morphis predicted. “It won’t take away from teachers,” Newman said. The DCSD began reopening its two dozen or so schools Sept. 21, with younger students back in school full-time and older ones alternating between computer classes and in-person education. Students enrolled in the district’s Virtual Academy – about one-third of students in the district – aren’t expected to attend in-person class at all this school year.