Students won’t return to class
Georgetown County schools will focus on making sure students don’t fall behind following Gov. Henry McMaster’s decision this week to extend school closings in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
Online learning will continue through the end of the current school year next month. McMaster and state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said they will give districts flexibility in holding graduation activities for the class of 2020 that follow the state’s rules on social distancing.
“There is no question kids are going to be behind no matter how hard you work on the e-learning and the distance learning,” School Board Chairman Jim Dumm said. “Many families will actively engage in that and many families won’t be able to actively engage in that.”
McMaster closed the public schools on March 16, then extended that closure through the end of April. He announced Wednesday that students will not return before the end of the academic year.
“Schools are the backbone of the community. When they are closed, all of us hurt,” Spearman said at a press conference with the governor. “Our buildings will not open for the rest of the year, but instruction will continue.”
A task force at the Department of Education will examine ways to help maintain summer math and reading programs as well as consider the steps necessary to reopen schools in August, Spearman said.
“That was the only reasonable decision to be made. I’m pleasantly surprised that they made it that way,” Dumm said. “I was concerned that Gov. McMaster was going to try and open them, and I really don’t think now is the time. I’m glad they made the decision that they did, and I support it 100 percent.”
Georgetown County is among 19 districts in the state with full e-learning capability, but with the pandemic “the digital divide in South Carolina has become very apparent,” Spearman said. “There are still areas where families do not have access to the internet.”
Districts routinely hold summer camps to help elementary students maintain or improve reading and math skills. Those students were already identified before the closure, but Spearman said others may need help.
The state is working on a “virtual model” in case those camps can’t be held in person.
Dumm said he would like to see the summer programs go forward.
“We’re all going through this together and we’re going to do the very best we can as a district to help kids maintain and catch up,” he said.
Spearman said it may require adding days to the next school year to make sure all students catch up. Students should not be concerned about being held back a grade, she added.
As for seniors, “our first priority was making sure seniors could graduate,” Spearman said.
What graduation will look like is uncertain.
“They’re going to explore some innovative ideas and ways to do that. I don’t think anybody is near a decision on that,” Dumm said.
The S.C. High School League followed the closure by ending spring sports. Fall sports will not be able to hold practices in May.
The league also voted to not allow virtual tryouts because of the risk of an athlete getting injured.