Marlboro County Board of Education approved two options for the upcoming 2020-21 school year at a special called meeting Tuesday.
The options are the Marlboro County School District Virtual Academy and what the district administration is calling Traditional School-Option 2A (personalized learning).
Board members approved Sept. 2 as the first day of school with the Learn, Evaluate, Analyze and Prepare (LEAP) days taking place on Aug. 24-28.
All students in grades 4K-12, even those enrolled in the Virtual Academy, must be involved in LEAP days. Students will be brought into the schools on a staggered schedule for teachers to do assessments and for electronic learning devices to be distributed.
The Virtual Academy is for parents who do not feel other options will be safe for their students. It is open to students in grades 1–12 and is a continuous online learning platform where students will receive instruction, grades, and be counted present or absent each day regardless of the COVID-19 cases.
As of press time, 1,150 students were enrolled in the academy. There are 3,850 students in the district.
The last day to register for the academy is this Friday.
Once enrolled in the Virtual Academy, students will remain enrolled until the end of the first semester.
Board member Jackie Branch asked what plans were in place for parents who work and have students in the virtual academy or hybrid options.
Dr. Kakela O’ Banner Robinson, chief of staff for the district, said they are in the process of working with church and community organizations to accommodate parents who may need childcare. Schools may also have some options available on site for teachers and staff.
The personalized learning plan will include a traditional school component and involves both eLearning and digital learning.
Students in grades PreK-3 will work on the eLearning platform, which will use electronic devices when available, along with enrichment activities from their teachers.
Students may be allowed to attend school for face-to-face instruction based on individual needs and decisions made by school administration, considering all health data available.
“Schools will be open every day but students may not be required to be present on site every day,” said Superintendent Dr. Gregory McCord. “The health and wellness of our students and staff is priority one. Our decisions may not please everyone today but with everyone working together, I know we will be successful.”
In grades 4-12, all students will work using the digital learning platform.
Instruction will take place in this manner for the first nine weeks of school. However, health data will be reviewed for adjustments frequently.
If the health data indicates that students may safely return to school, a decision may be made by the school board to bring all students back to school for full time, face-to-face instruction.
Some Marlboro County High School Career and Technical Education courses may require students to meet in-person for instruction on days as decided by the school administration.
MCHS dual enrollment students will follow the schedules provided by Northeastern Technical College.
Before and after the plan was presented, board members were able to ask questions.
Board member Danny Driggers was concerned about the quality of education students will receive through virtual learning.
“I know the teachers will be presenting it but whether it will be received as it should, is the question,” he said.
McCord said there would be interaction as much as possible for grades 4-12 but couldn’t guarantee it would be equal to bricks and mortar education.
In March, the district went to digital learning very suddenly, due to forced closures by the state government.
“This time we had a chance to carefully plan out and prepare,” McCord said.
Chairman Larry McNeil noted parents have a responsibility in all of this as well as educators.
McCord noted parents will have to be involved with resources available to assist them such as the help desk on the district’s app.
“We’re trying to find ways to assist parents,” he said. “We do want them to be a part of the process. We don’t want them to be frustrated to the point that they tap out.”
After more discussion, Vice Chairman Michael Coachman asked if there was a plan in place for a student or teacher testing positive for COVID-19.
District officials said a plan would be provided at each school and to each family before school starts.
The name of who the infected person is cannot be revealed because of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws.
“We do want to alert the families with as much information as possible if and when a situation occurs,” McCord said.
Board members voted 8-1 to approve the school reopening plan. Driggers voted no.