District eyes early opening for county schools
By Bobby Bryant
Darlington County School District officials are considering a proposal to start the fall semester a week early so teachers will be able to assess whether students have fallen behind after months of “online learning.”
The state Education Department ultimately will decide when and how county schools reopen for the fall semester, based on how the COVID-19 crisis develops through the summer. Officials seem to think that some combination of “in-person” and online education, with students’ desks spaced widely apart, is the most likely option.
But county Education Superintendent Tim Newman said at a June 8 school board meeting that he personally favors a proposal to build on a week’s extra time at the beginning of the semester. Teachers and officials could use that time to see whether students have slipped behind as a result of the classes-by-computer system that’s been in use since Gov. Henry McMaster closed all S.C. public schools in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That recommendation is out there,” Newman said. “ … Again, the thought process behind it is that the first five days would be spent assessing where students really are. … We’d have a better idea where to start at the beginning of the school year.”
The school board wasn’t asked to vote on the idea.
Board members are concerned about how “learning from home” has affected students in the district. Newman said 4 percent to 5 percent of district students seem to have fallen off the radar – they’ve turned in no online assignments and the school district hasn’t been able to contact them.
Members expressed praise for how well officials had been able to make online learning work, despite the fact it originally was intended as a short-term fix in case weather emergencies forced school shutdowns. But they said the district still faces many challenges.
“Virtual learning wasn’t (meant to be) a long-term process,” said board member Richard Brewer. “And I think we found that out. My biggest concern is that we’ve lost so many students with that system. … These kids need socialization, to learn those (social) skills and everything else they learn from their friends and from their teachers.”
Brewer added: “Teachers have told me, ‘I need to have a one-on-one with these students. We’ve got to get back in front of them.’ ”
Newman was asked how many Darlington County students had tested positive for COVID-19.
He said those numbers weren’t readily accessible, but he said, “It impacted our graduations. It absolutely impacted our graduations.”
Last week, board members met in person at the school district’s headquarters, but the public and the news media were excluded because of COVID-19 concerns. The session was broadcast live on the school district’s Facebook page. During the meeting, members “socially distanced” and some wore face masks.
Also last week, the board agreed that the Fox would be the mascot for two new elementary schools nearing completion.
Students who will be attending Bay Road Elementary in Hartsville and Lamar-Spaulding Elementary in Lamar both chose the Fox in surveys.
The board also approved annexing the Bay Road property to the city of Hartsville for better rates on water/sewer services.