Strains developing in district’s back-to-school plan?
By Bobby Bryant
Two Darlington County school board members say they are hearing “rumblings” that problems might be developing within the school district’s strategy for educating the county’s 10,000 public-school students during the COVID-19 crisis. During the board’s Oct. 12 meeting, members Wanda Hassler and Jamie Morphis said they are hearing complaints suggesting that schools are already seeing stressed-out teachers and students who have fallen alarmingly behind since the district cautiously restarted classes Sept. 21. Morphis said he’s hearing reports that the district’s mix of full-time “in-person” classes for younger students, part-time “in-person” classes for older ones and a full-time Virtual Academy that 3,700 students have joined might have been rolled out too quickly. He also said there didn’t seem to be enough communication between the district, teachers and schools. “It’s not happening right now,” Morphis said, based on “the number of folks I’ve talked to from so many different schools.” He also said he’s hearing from teachers who are “scared to death” by how far students have fallen behind since Gov. Henry McMaster shut down all S.C. public schools in the spring and districts went to online education. Darlington County Education Superintendent Tim Newman told Morphis that this was the first he’s heard about these types of issues. Morphis said he would share with Newman information he’s gathered from talking to people who work for the school district. Hassler added: “I’m hearing rumblings as well, just to piggyback on that.” “There’s a lot of stress,” Hassler said. She said the district is “rolling out things” for which the time might not be right. But she added, “I don’t think the overall plan is a bad plan from what I’m hearing.” The district has come up with a “one size fits all” system for coping with the pandemic, Morphis said. “And if there was ever a time when ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t apply, it’s now. I think that’s one of the biggest things.” Newman said, “We need to do everything we can to limit the stress, but here’s the problem … We will be taking (standardized) tests at the end of the year. We will be held accountable for the tests’ (scores).” “I understand we can’t go back face-to-face” full-time for everyone at this point, Morphis said. “But obviously the stress would be minimized if it was full-time face-to-face. They’re currently working one, two, three different plans. Those (teachers) that are back, they’re happy, they’re comfortable when they’re back, but are you hearing they would like to be back full-time, face to face?” “I’m hearing folks are a little afraid of that right now,” Newman told him. He said teachers, and parents, feel that the district’s “hybrid” class plan for older students – two days in class, two days at home, online – is helping protect everyone from COVID-19 by limiting the numbers of people in school buildings. “All of us want to be back five days,” Newman said. “But we’re also a little nervous when we see some of our co-workers out and some of our students out.” Morphis said that current plans for standardized tests are “brutal” under the circumstances. “You gotta be kidding me. These kids are behind right now. These teachers … are already stressed. If we allow them to teach with all this (standardized) testing (coming up), I really think that’s a hindrance.” “Somebody needs to fight the state, or federal, whoever’s forcing this,” Morphis said.