CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District is planning out a number of options as the uncertainty around reopening schools lingers, and parents have a deadline on deciding what they want to do.
If students are given the green light to head back into the classroom on Aug. 18, parents can either choose to send them to school or sign them up for an all-year virtual program. The deadline for that decision is the end of July.
If schools remain closed in August, students signed up for the all-year virtual program won’t be effected, but the other students will be. They’ll do a hybrid virtual program from home, meeting with their teachers over video conferencing and completing some work on their own.
The school district is operating the all-year virtual academy as its own separate school. The assigned teachers will just be working with the enrolled students, and the students could be taking online courses with children from other parts of the county.
Three different programs costing an estimated $650,000 will be used for this platform: Edgenuity, Florida Virtual, and South Carolina Virtual. That’s according to school district Chief Academic Officer Karoyln Belcher.
“The idea is that there would be face-to-face instruction,” Belcher said. “That’s how some of these courses are designed, and particularly for elementary school, there’s an emphasis on that.”
A rough plan has elementary school students getting 30 minutes of direct instruction from a teacher on one topic, then doing independent work or activities for another 30 minutes. Then, they’d all move on to another topic.
“That would probably be for the bulk of the morning where it’s more structured,” Belcher said. “Then in the afternoon, it may be more independent work or individual work depending on the grade level and subject area.”
High school students may have more of a flexible timeline to complete work as they’ll do some of it independently.
“But for all kids, there’s going to be an aspect of face-to-face instruction and interaction and being able to ask a teacher about the content they are trying to learn,” she said.
Edgenuity will provide options primarily for high school students. This will include AP courses.
“We’re going to have a relationship with Florida Virtual purchasing some of their courses which then our teachers would teach,” Belcher said. “That allows us to skip the step of having to design the courses and put together the assessments and making sure the courses are all aligned with the standards. All of that is done for us, and the real focus will be on the teachers meeting the individual needs of the students who enroll in the course.”
The deadline to sign students up for this program is July 26, and that form can be found here. It is an all-year program, but the school district is considering options that would allow students to rejoin their home school classes after a semester. Those details are still being worked out.
If schools remain closed in August, students will do work virtually with their teacher.
“If we have to open up fully virtual the entire system because of safety concerns, what parents should expect to see is something a little different than what we did in the Spring,” Belcher said.
Right now, the plans for this include more formal face-to-face instruction from a teacher. This will allow them to set up a day and make sure instruction is more consistent for all of their students, she said.
“We’re really focusing on measuring student learning, knowing when kids are getting off track and intervene, and probably more formal face time,” she said.
In this scenario, once schools reopen or partially reopen, students would return to their home schools for instruction.
If schools are unable to reopen for 100-percent of students, then the school district will go to an AB schedule. This means students will learn in the classroom one day and then do coursework at home the next.
“We want kids back in school, but we also want to make sure they come back into school safely,” Belcher said. “What we’re trying to do is the day students aren’t in school, they’ll be doing extension activities of our current curriculum and working on that in an ongoing way.”
If schools are cleared to fully reopen to all students every day, some significant changes will be made to day-to-day activities but instruction will aim to be as normal as possible.
“I think there will be less physical movement between classes,” Belcher said. “Educators might move instead of the students in order to minimize interaction with a large number of kids or adults.”
During a school district reopening task force meeting in June, Chief Operating Officer Jeff Borowy showed some possible designs of how classrooms may look in August. With plexiglass in place, he said many elementary school classrooms could fit 24 students safely, and with desks spread out in high schools, they could fit up to 17 safely.
Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait also announced the district is considering requiring all students to wear a face mask from when they get on to school property until they get to their seat in the classroom.
“Trying to have a year-long picture is probably unrealistic, so we’re looking at this in a quarter basis,” Belcher said. “The more that parents can work with us recognizing this is not going to be one thing. It’s going to evolve over the course of the year, but what we’re doing is what’s best for their kids and keeping them safe and the adults safe. I would appreciate their patience with us.”
She added that they’ve been surveying parents, and there’s been significant interest in the all-year virtual program.
“But, the majority of parents do want their kids to go back to school in some way that’s safe to do so,” she said.
The reopening task force is set to meet again on Friday, July 10. It can be watched here.