Darlington County Board of Education creates Virtual Academy, revises school start date
The Darlington County Board of Education voted to move the school district’s first day of school to September 8 with the goal of operating face-to-face with an eLearning component. The board also approved the creation of the Darlington County Virtual Academy, a new K-12 program that will operate completely online. Online registration opened July 15 for both traditional and virtual options.
“I commend the board for working hard to do what is right for our kids and for our employees,” said Dr. Tim Newman, superintendent. “The board has worked many hours and talked to many stakeholders and employees. There were no right answers, and we may still have to shift due to the science of the virus. But we are committed to providing quality education while doing all we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”
A Back-To-School Task Force of parents, teachers, principals, students, medical practitioners, and district officials helped shape the district’s plan by reviewing reopening guidelines, outlining areas of concern, and recommending possible solutions and preparations needed.
The board used the Task Force’s feedback in shaping the district’s reopening plan. The board discussed the extensive preparations the district will take to prepare the schools for opening, as well as the procedures and safety measures that will need to be in place during school to ensure the safety of staff and students. These include social distancing, adequate spacing between desks, new procedures for lunchtime and recess, masks for students and staff, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) as required, regular and frequent cleaning, full time nurses at every campus, and more.
At this time, students and staff will be required to wear masks while at school. The Darlington County School District (DCSD) will provide students and teachers with cloth masks for their use.
While the goal is in-person instruction, Newman emphasized the district will adjust plans if the pandemic numbers so requires. If district or state officials determine the district cannot safely open in-person daily instruction due to the COVID-19 situation, the district may operate on a virtual schedule.
“We live in an electronic world,” Newman said. “Our traditional program will always have an eLearning component. In some cases, that means our inclement weather days will be eLearning days and won’t require us to make them up. In other cases, the science may require that we shift from traditional in-person classes to a combination of eLearning and in-person instruction, or even a fully virtual eLearning program. We recognize those situations are often difficult for working parents, and we are working to enhance the eLearning program for everyone.”
The new Virtual Academy will be an option for students and families uncomfortable with attending a traditional school. The Virtual Academy will provide rigorous, structured, organized instruction with local teachers. Unlike eLearning, which was implemented under emergency conditions during last spring's school shutdown, students in the Darlington County Virtual Academy will have a normal daily instructional schedule, earn grades, and receive timely teacher feedback in response to class or homework. DCSD teachers experienced in online platforms and virtual instruction will support student engagement using live and recorded lessons and tutorials. Students in the Virtual Academy will be provided the necessary technology to participate in class. Reliable internet is required.
The Virtual Academy will shift some DCSD teachers from traditional classrooms to virtual classrooms. To ensure proper staffing of both the Virtual Academy and the traditional schools, students who enroll in the Virtual Academy will remain in the Virtual Academy for the entire school year. Students who desire to transfer back into a traditional school may be able to do so at the semester break in January, providing there is space available in the traditional school.
Online registration for the 2020-2021 school year opened on July 15 and will close on July 29. All DCSD students will need to register online during this time.