By Betsy Finklea
The Dillon County Board of Education unanimously voted to delay the start of school until September 8th at their meeting on Tuesday.
The original start date had been set for August 17th.
Rep. Jackie Hayes, who made a rare appearance at a county school board meeting, said that we are in unprecedented times.
Rep. Hayes said he had been talking with Superintendent Ray Rogers and Superintendent John Kirby, and they all agreed that they wished to delay the start date until September 8th. This will give administration and staff an opportunity to work on the things that they need to do to prepare. Numerous plans are under consideration.
Hayes said when one looks at the CDC guidelines and the DHEC statistics that basically everyone in the state is rated at the highest risk level.
Hayes said the decisions regarding how school services will be delivered need to be based on these guidelines and in regards to people’s health and safety. He said until it affects you, you think nothing about it.
Hayes said they have to put a plan in place to get school started back whether it is virtual, traditional face-to-face, or a hybrid/combination of the two.
Hayes said that at the current time, he didn’t think they could put students in a building because the buildings are not designed for social distancing, and there is the consideration of how students would be bused to school as buses cannot run full capacity, etc.
Hayes said he knows they have got to get back to school, but there are challenges ahead on how this will be done. If the date is changed to September 8th this will make it 48 days (at the time of the meeting) before the start of school. This will give school officials time to monitor and see what is going on.
Hayes said they are losing students to online schools and private schools, and they need to put their plan out there, or they will lose students and lose funding.
Dillon District Four Superintendent Ray Rogers said that Rep. Hayes had been invaluable in their discussions with Columbia. He said District Four sent out surveys on the start of school. Approximately 70 percent of the teachers said they were not ready to come back. He said if that today, with the current situation, they would want to start with virtual learning, and they will provide computers for every student. He said every district in the state is proposing something different.
Rogers said there is a hybrid model, and they may can go to that at some point where some learning is done in person and some virtual, but in the environment we are currently dealing in and the large number of students they serve, his board feels the best thing is virtual.
Rogers said they would rather err on the side of caution and the health of the kids and personnel.
Dillon District Three Superintendent Dr. John Kirby said everyone is all over the place about what to do, however, there are three alternatives: 1) Traditional (face-to-face), 2) Virtual, and 3) Hybrid (combination of the two). He said the hybrid is extra work on the teachers.
He said that he would ask the board to set the start date of September 8th and not mandate the way they would deliver instruction.
He said that if they had to go back to school today, they would have to do a virtual school. However, with school six weeks away, they do not know how things will change.
Dr. Kirby said that the parents will know there are three plans—the worst case would be virtual and the best case would be traditional or there would possibly be the blended hybrid model.
By law, they are not required to notify parents until 20 days before the start of school which will be August 19th. The Latta Board has a meeting on August 11th, where they can make a recommendation. He said parents can prepare for the worst case scenario, which would be virtual. He said they had surveyed all staff and was waiting on getting more information from parents. He said they needed to proceed cautiously and take time to make an informed decision based on health data at that time.
Dr. Kirby said one issue they had was they only had Chromebooks for about half the students and some more on order. He said that the equipment they had to order exceeded the funding they received by approximately $200,000. He said they couldn’t do total virtual right now, it would have to be a half virtual, half pencil-paper system like it was prior to school getting out.
He said about 30 percent of the students in his district do not have internet access and 10 percent of the teachers do not have it. Dr. Kirby said they are working hard on the protocols.
Dr. Kirby said until our leaders attack the problem at the community level the virus is going to continue to rise.
Dr. Kirby said parents should be aware that there are three plans and that it is very flexible and could switch overnight.
Rep. Hayes said what he heard is that if they had to start school today that it would be virtual or virtual and the pencil-paper method and that they will use the DHEC rating system of high-medium-low for COVID-19 to determine what to do. Everyone agreed that they wanted to do everything the safest way they can.
ATEC Director Jerry Strickland said the ATEC center is ready to go either way whether it is virtual, virtual/paper-pencil, hybrid, or traditional.
He said they needed leeway to bring the students back for hands-on learning. He said they have several plans and will work with the districts in any way they need to serve the students.
Upon a motion by Board Member Jimmy Sweat and a second by Betty Jo Johnson, the board voted to delay the start date of school until September 8th, to follow the DHEC guidelines for COVID-19, and to bring back the district plans to the August 18th meeting of the Dillon County Board of Education.
By Betsy Finklea