Students back in class full-time
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
On Feb. 22, Darlington County’s public schools did something they haven’t done in nearly a year: They put all students, at all grade levels, back in class, face to face, full-time. Except for about 3,000 students who opted for the school district’s full-time Virtual Academy online classes, it was a full house at the district’s nearly 25 schools for the first time since Gov. Henry McMaster closed all S.C. schools in March 2020 to combat COVID-19. “Monday, the vibe was amazing,” said Elizabeth Thompson, an English teacher at Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology in Darlington. “Students were excited to actually see each other face to face (every day). … I’m glad everybody’s back on campus.” Feb. 22 was the school district’s target date for ending the practice of having all middle- and high-school students divide their time between in-person classes and online classes, and officials said everything went well. “Today was a big milestone,” Darlington County Education Superintendent Tim Newman told the school board in a work session held the same day the change took place. “Today was the first day back to face to face, five days a week, for our high-school and middle-school students,” Newman said. “ … Our schools did an awesome job on having kids back in the buildings. “I talked to a lot of teachers in some of our larger buildings. They were grateful to see kids back. They love seeing all their kids at the same time. The kids love being back around their peers. It was a great start, but it’s just a start.” The district continues to use strict COVID-19 precautions, including face masks, social distancing and plastic partitions on desktops. COVID vaccinations for district teachers and staff remain an issue. And the district could have to scale back down again if the pandemic gets drastically worse, but right now, the area’s COVID numbers seem to be falling. With things looking up, Newman said he has begun getting questions about when or how DCSD schools will be able to hold proms this year; COVID-19 shut down the proms last year. “From my perspective, I do not see a safe way of conducting proms at this point in time,” Newman told the board. “People are asking, what’s the difference between prom and athletics? You don’t have hundreds of people dancing together at athletics,” Newman said. “ … I don’t think you can safely put together a lot of young adults and tell them not to do something. I don’t think that’s fair to them.” Newman continued: “I think we’re really setting people up if we’re going to tell a bunch of young people, ‘OK, you can gather, but you’ve got to be 6 feet apart, you’ve got to wear masks, and you can’t dance with each other, you can’t congregate.’ There’s just no real, good, safe way to do that.” “I know it’s been a very difficult year; I know they didn’t have a prom last year,” Newman said. “ … Who knows? Maybe, later on, late spring, early summer, if we see some type of clearance through this … but today, I just don’t see at all us being able to put together a plan where our high schools are going to be able to conduct a prom at this point in time.” “I know I’m the bad guy with that today,” he added.