Schools closed 4 more weeks
By Bobby Bryant
It will be at least the end of April before Darlington County public schools open again.
As the global coronavirus threat grows, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster decided last week to extend his closure of all S.C. public schools past McMaster’s original end date of March 31.
As the Darlington County School District faces another month of conducting classes by computer and organizing giveaways of free meals to students who depend on the meals provided by the school district, county Education Superintendent Tim Newman spoke to the public last week via a video posted on the district’s Facebook page and website.
Newman said high-school proms are being postponed during the virus crisis, but he said plans were still underway to hold spring graduation ceremonies – unless the crisis deepens and the district has to change course. As of now, “Those (graduations) will be at the end of the school year, as scheduled,” Newman said.
He also said Spring Break will be observed as usual April 10-17 for both students learning from home and for teachers running the online classes. Free meals will still be provided during Spring Break.
“Questions have come up about whether we will have to make these (learning-from-home) days up,” Newman said. “We won’t have to make these days up. These are actually full school days. … There’s a reason we are asking students to work every day … so we can say these are full school days and we won’t have to make them up when we come back.”
Newman said he knows the district’s online-instruction plan is a big departure from what both students and parents are used to. “It is different than what we’re used to. We’re used to being in a classroom with a teacher that works with us face to face and can talk with us on a regular basis. We’ve had to change that mode of instruction. … We’re working through all the bugs and kinks in this process.”
March 13 was the district’s last full day of regular in-the-classroom instruction, Newman said. Third-quarter grades, he said, will be based on work due by March 13. Classwork done after that will be used in fourth-quarter grades. Report cards should be sent out this week.
“We are carefully trying to balance rigor and then what is reasonable,” Newman said. “We realize that this new method of delivering instruction can be pretty intense. If anybody has taken distance-learning classes before, or online courses, you know there’s a lot more material than is typically involved in a face-to-face class. We’re aware of these issues, and we’re working through those with you.”
“None of us,” Newman said, “(has) experienced what we’re experiencing right now in our lifetime, what’s going on in our world, with the coronavirus, with being at home with your children, and more than likely, home from your job as well, and having to keep up with all this.”
Newman said some questions have come up about how students who don’t have Internet access at home can receive and send in assignments. He said students just need to find a Wi-Fi hot spot and get close to it. It might be a school, a church, a business. “If you can just come into our parking lot (at a school) and connect to the Internet, it will upload your new assignments.” Newman said students will get extra time to complete assignments by computer.
When McMaster first ordered all S.C. schools closed, state education officials talked about a plan to outfit 3,000 school buses as Wi-Fi hot spots and move them around as needed to serve students without Internet access at home. Newman didn’t mention that state plan, and it’s not clear if that plan is still on the table.
On March 24, McMaster and state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman released this joint statement:
“At this time, students, parents and families should plan for South Carolina’s schools to remain closed through the month of April.
“Our dedicated teachers and school administrators have done a tremendous job in making it possible for our students to learn at home. We understand that the prospect of schools remaining closed for an extended period of time places stress and strain on parents and children.
“Rest assured, if there is any way to safely open our schools earlier, we will do that, but schools must remain closed to protect the health and safety of South Carolinians.”
On March 15, McMaster issued an executive order closing public schools for students and nonessential employees through March 31. State officials said the governor would issue another such order to formally extend the school closures through April. This new executive order also will apply to public colleges, universities and technical colleges.