Beaufort County School District will now start with full-virtual instruction

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BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – The Beaufort County School District (BCSD) has announced the district will temporarily adopt a full-virtual educational model when school reopens on Sept. 8.

BCSD Superintendent Frank Rodriguez made the announcement Tuesday night during a Board of Education meeting.

“Having reviewed DHEC (S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control) metrics for the past six weeks, we see COVID-19 conditions simply are not improving in our community,” Rodriguez said.

“In fact, they have been getting worse,” he continued. “Last week, Beaufort County reported a record 113 infections in a single day. Nearly half of our county’s 43 confirmed deaths occurred in July.”

Beaufort County is currently in the “high” category for the DHEC threat level from the virus. The numbers of cases per 100,000 people are at are 616 and tests are returning positive at a rate of 20.7%.

It is more than triple the “medium” level.

“We want to return to face to face instruction,” said Rodriguez. “Our district teachers and staff want to return to face to face instruction, our students and their parents I know want it too. But before that can happen and happen safely, it has to be safer than it is today.”

Still, the district does not want to sacrifice education for safety.

After parental complaints about last spring’s virtual classes, BSCD purchased a new learning platform for all students. K12 Learning Solutions is for kindergarten through 8th-grade students and high schoolers will use the virtual program which is state-sponsored.

Each platform is described as more comprehensive than what was used last spring. There are multiple platforms for students’ remediation or acceleration.

Each offers a chance for students to excel or to help them if they are not meeting requirements, and the district says the implementation will be better and more consistent across all schools.

“Our expectations for our students and our staff have not been lessened because we are starting in this virtual space,” said BCSD Deputy Superintendent Duke Bradley.

In addition, every student in the district will get a tablet to use.

The school system is also working with the state to offer mobile internet service for families that need it for their child’s education.

“”We will have young people logging on, teachers will be able to interface and interact with them at the moment and also offer learning time without the teacher,” explained Chief Instructional Services Officer Dr. Mary Stratos. “It mirrors a normal school day as much as we can. There will be a tremendous amount of discretion in their lesson plans on school days. There may not be 8 hours of screen time, but there will be eight hours of learning that’s packed into their respective lesson plans.”

Whether students are learning face-to-face or virtually, Bradley says instruction will be “rigorous, relevant and engaging.”

After it was first announced Beaufort County would offer face-to-face or virtual options to parents, many teachers emailed and called the district with their concerns about starting in person.

“With the fears and concerns that teachers have, if you open face-to-face you may have just a body in the room,” said Rodriguez. “But the work of the teachers is so much more than just delivering high-quality instruction. The work of our teachers is also supporting our students with their social and emotional learning and being there for them as well.”

Many teachers are now applauding this decision. They also know the work has just begun.

“This goes to show you our voices did matter especially with Dr. Rodriguez,” explains Tyron McMilon, a Beaufort County teacher. “Just to know he had all our interests in his heart and mind, it shows you he’s someone you want to work for.”

“I know a lot of parents are in the mindset that they wanted their kids back in the classroom, but this online learning can work and will work,” he continued, “because as teachers we don’t like to fail and we are not going to fail our students we are not going to fail our parents.”

Parents still have questions about ESOL programs, special needs classes, scheduling for advanced classes and students who need extra instruction.

“How are we handling the very unique cases through virtual learning?” said Jodie Srutek from STAND For Students. “Now that everyone is utilizing virtual at least for the start of the year, for the families that are doing virtual, families managing students with special needs, high demand classes, unique circumstances, really drilling down into what does this mean per family. That’s a big concern.”

The school system has promised to answer as many of those questions and more before class starts.

Srutek says now is not the time to complain — it’s time to move forward.

“We may be disappointed and may be scared or worried about the future and how we are going to manage, with all the stresses that we have facing us,” she said, “but how we respond to that is key because our children will pick up on that, see our frustrations and it’s important we do what we can and work with our support networks to the degree.”

Srutek added that she’s seeing parents being proactive, organizing small learning groups and looking to friends and family members to “make it work.”

BCSD says it will not make any decisions about fall sports. Instead, that will come from the South Carolina Athletic League, which right now, will allow for a shortened season.

School leaders say they will only return to in class instruction when it’s safe for students and staff and will continue to assess the learning model after the start of the new year.

“Our students, employees, and all of their families deserve our advocacy and protection from potentially harmful conditions,” says Rodriguez. “They represent the best of who we are as a district and we will do our utmost to safeguard their health and their well being.”

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