Newman: ‘We have been adapting over and over’
By Bobby Bryant
As the Darlington County School District fights to reopen schools Sept. 8 amid a constantly shifting COVID-19 threat, everyone is adapting to a changing battlefield, says county Education Superintendent Tim Newman: “We have been adapting over and over and over.”
On Aug. 21, in the latest of his series of video chats with parents, Newman reviewed how the school district and school board have been facing another challenge: Learning that, because “social distancing” is effectively going to create “extra” classes in middle and high schools with not enough teachers to teach them, the district apparently won’t be able to meet its goal of having in-person classes five days a week on all grade levels.
The board discussed that dilemma Aug. 17 and was planning to grapple with it again in an Aug. 24 meeting at which major decisions will need to be made.
“We had a board meeting Monday (the 17th) to talk about some of those changes in circumstances and logistics we’re facing,” Newman said. “Not that any of us are happy about those changes, but what do we do but move forward?”
Aiming to meet the original goal, district officials discussed many options for scheduling classes and waited to see how many students would opt for the district’s online Virtual Academy, taking themselves out of class in favor of an online-only approach.
In the end, 3,700 students chose the Virtual Academy, but it wasn’t enough to make the numbers work for the district’s in-person, five-day-a-week goal.
“We probably got 90 percent there,” Newman said of making the original goal work.
However, Newman said, the original plan still works for elementary schools.
“We’re fine on elementary schools,” he said.
The district should be able to social-distance desks on those grade levels and still be able to do in-person classes five days a week.
COVID-19 “is not a time for planners,” Newman said ruefully.
“I apologize to all the A-type personalities out there, like me, who are planners. I am so much of an A-type personality that if a roll of toilet paper is put on the wrong way in the bathroom, I’ve got to reverse it to make sure it’s the way it’s supposed to be. … It is a difficult time for personalities like mine.”
On football and other sports, decisions are still being made, Newman said. There are lots of factors to consider – even travel.
Suppose a Darlington County team played at a school in a county with higher virus risks?
And because fewer students can sit in buses now because of distancing, they would need more buses to transport teams.
First football games are still tentatively set to begin Sept. 25, Newman said.
“I truly hope we can get there. I want us to be able to play football games. But I can tell you, they’re going to look a lot different than what they’ve ever looked like before.”
Assuming COVID-19 conditions allow games to be played, Newman said, they will probably look like the socially-distanced graduations the school district held in June at high-school football stadiums, with large gaps in the stands and with certain areas cordoned off.