Schools closed; DCSD students to ‘learn from home’
Virus threat growing; no cases yet in county
By Bobby Bryant
Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered all South Carolina public schools closed through March 31 as the global coronavirus threat grows.
That means 10,000 students in the Darlington County School District will stay home for at least a few weeks – but the district had already been preparing for that possibility.
Nearly a week before McMaster ordered the school shutdown, DCSD officials said they were readying an online “e-learning” plan that will let teachers conduct classes by computer for as long as necessary.
In a Sunday afternoon news conference, McMaster shut down all public schools in all 46 counties, even in counties – such as Darlington – where no coronavirus cases had been reported. The nearest county reporting cases of the virus is Kershaw County, where at least 11 people are thought to have the virus.
“This is a fluid situation,” McMaster said. “We are attempting to stay ahead of the situation and anticipate what may happen.”
The governor’s temporary school shutdown also applies to all state-supported colleges, universities and technical colleges. In this area, that includes Francis Marion University in Florence and Florence-Darlington Technical College, but online classes are expected to continue at both.
McMaster also is discouraging public gatherings of more than 100 people.
Many children in South Carolina schools rely on the meals they get at school; officials said plans were being made to ensure those students will still get two meals a day. Education officials also said 3,000 school buses statewide are being equipped with Wi-Fi for use by students who have school-issued computers, but who don’t have Internet access at home.
Six days before McMaster’s school shutdown was announced, Darlington County Education Superintendent Tim Newman briefed the county school board on the district’s strategy for dealing with the coronavirus threat: Be ready and react fast.
“The big focus that we have been spending a lot of time on over the past few days, of course, is what is in the media currently” about the coronavirus threat, Newman told the school board March 9.
“We at least want to be in preparation mode,” Newman said. “So, for example, we’ve been making sure we have supplies on hand for (sanitizing) our buildings, if we need to do that. We used to take for granted that you could get hand sanitizers quickly, but these days, that’s not the case. … If you don’t have it now, you probably won’t have it when you need it, so we’ve had to make sure the availability is out there.”
“The other part that we are working on is the distance learning,” Newman said.
Last year, the district had developed a detailed plan for “e-learning” – letting teachers conduct classes by computer if schools had to be shut down for a weather emergency such as a hurricane or winter storm. The district had hoped to be able to join a pilot program to test its “e-learning” system, but was not chosen to be among the schools in that program.
However, the “e-learning” plans are still in place and can be used if Darlington County schools had to be shut down because of the coronavirus threat. “We are getting everything prepared for that,” Newman said, “working with our schools, working with our technology department, working with our instructional technology department …”
“We’re just wanting to make sure … to be ready,” Newman said. “I’ve made the comment several times over the past few days, ‘Look how much has changed in two weeks’ time.’ … We have to be able to react pretty quickly.”
“Information changes constantly” with the coronavirus threat, Newman said. “So this will continue to be moving. … Our hope is that we won’t be talking about this a month from now.”
CareSouth Carolina says it has been in regular contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. In a news release last week, CareSouth said it has formed a “strategic team” to monitor the pandemic and has posted signs in its facilities to help identify those who may be affected.
Updates on the coronavirus threat are available on the Darlington County School District’s website (dcsdschools.org).
In other business during its meeting last week, the school board approved awarding a $2.5 million contract to Conterra Ultra Broadband, “the highest-ranked offeror,” to link the new schools being built in the county into the district’s network, to upgrade the network and to greatly increase its bandwidth.
Also, the board recognized 23 students from the Darlington County School District who won first place in competitions at the S.C. State Beta Club Convention. They are:
From Mayo High School for Math, Science & Technology in Darlington: Da’Sean Sims, 3-D Design; Zackary Bailey, 3-D Design; Evan Crews, 3-D Design; Natalie Meggs, 3-D Design; Keating Jackson, 3-D Design; Erin Cooper, 3-D Design; Deirdre Currin, Technology; Haley Bryant, Technology; Tatum Clontz, Drawing, Division II; and Anderson Hulsey, AgriScience Grade 11.
From Hartsville High School: Stella Tew, Painting, Division 1 and Best of Show, On-Site Painting, Division 1; Sophia Krawiec, On-Site Painting – Division II; Blaze Macarthur, Living Literature; Hunter Ritenour, Living Literature; Abigail Broach, Living Literature; Johnny Ropp, Living Literature; Michael Kerr, Living Literature; Gracie Jordan, Living Literature; Taylor Walters, Living Literature; Abby Lackey, Living Literature; Emily Woodham, Living Literature; Sophie Roemhildt, Performing Arts Duo;
and Kenneth Wingate Jr., Performing Arts Duo.