‘Year-round’ schools: An option for DCSD?
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
Could the Darlington County School District switch its 25 or so schools to a “year-round” education system by the 2022-23 academic year? The school board is far from a vote on the idea, but the district plans to seek input from parents, students, teachers and staff on the concept. The term “year-round schools” is somewhat misleading, since students don’t literally go to school year-round under that system, which is used by a minority of districts across the country. If the DCSD eventually decided to use that system, students still would not go to school more than the 180 “student days” required now, summer break would be shortened and there would be other breaks lasting several weeks each. In a Jan. 25 special called meeting of the school board, county Education Superintendent Tim Newman and the board had a discussion about the “year-round” idea, but at this point it remains only a possibility. If the district did move in that direction, Newman and board members indicated, it probably could not happen next year, the 2021-22 academic year. There wouldn’t be enough turnaround time, enough time to rearrange schedules and familiarize parents and students with the change. But, Newman indicated, it could be a possibility for the following year, the 2022-23 academic year. Some board members seemed to feel that the district already had too much on its plate dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, which the board and the district have been grappling with for more than 10 months. On the same Monday that board members met last week, the district had just reopened its schools after a three-week delay because of the area’s COVID numbers. But Newman said he could see some advantages with a “year-round” system. He said it might help repair some of the educational hits that the district has taken because of COVID-19, and said it could help avoid the “summer slide” that teachers face when kids return to school after a long summer break. “What happens to summer school, though?” asked board member Leigh Anne Kelley. “Do we have to do our remediation throughout the year?” “Yes, exactly,” Newman said. “For those most in need, you spend more time with them across the whole year.” Newman added: “In light of what we’ve been going through with the pandemic, it’s going to take us years to catch kids back up. I think this type of calendar will help us. We’ve all talked about how a year-round would help the neediest of students that are struggling.” In other matters, the board approved a plan for how the district will conduct its second semester. One change is that there’ll be about 700 more “face to face,” rather than online, students. This is a result of the district’s decision to let students decide whether they wanted to switch their “mode of instruction” from all-online to entirely or partly in-person, depending on grade level. Newman said the district wound up with a net gain of about 700 more in-person students. Officials now will need to make changes to accommodate that. One change is that some online teachers will be moved to “face to face.” Another is that the district plans to use plastic barriers in some classes to work in more students while still maintaining a “social distance” safety margin. Why plastic barriers? Because experts believe that desktop barriers – along with the use of face masks, as DCSD students have regularly been using – will allow officials to reduce “social distancing” from 6 feet to 3 feet while still maintaining the same level of COVID-19 safety. That allows more students in the classrooms. Also, officials will be watching the area’s COVID numbers, and if they are moving in a favorable direction, Newman said, he will consider the possibility of going back to a five-day “in-person” week for middle and high schools, which until now have been splitting students’ time between “face to face” and online learning.