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How Charleston-area schools will continue instruction during coronavirus closures

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All schools statewide will close until at least the end of March in order to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

After Gov. Henry McMaster announced that all K-12 schools statewide would close in an attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, many school districts and teachers now must prepare at least two weeks of lessons so that students can continue learning at home.

Technology can play a critical role in how teachers and students communicate virtually, and online platforms can make it easier for students to learn remotely.

While there are only 15 school districts statewide participating in the S.C. Education Oversight Committee’s eLearning pilot program, some school districts have the capacity to implement similar programs, according to S.C. Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown.

But many students across the state don’t have access to computers, tablets or reliable internet service at home, which can make successful virtual learning difficult.

Brown estimated that around one-third of the state's school districts would have the capacity to implement an eLearning-style model. 

The state education agency asked all districts in an email Thursday to create a virtual learning plan that covers two weeks. State Superintendent Molly Spearman said 30 of the state's 81 school districts already have approved plans.

As for children who don't have the ability to work online from home, Spearman said every district must incorporate in their plan how to address that: "In those cases where WiFi is not available, they’ll be sending paper and pencil work home. We’ll need parents to work very closely with their children and their school personnel."

In a press conference Sunday afternoon, Spearman said around 3,000 school buses are being equipped with WiFi that can travel to students living in remote areas without internet access.

Below is a guide to some of the plans and services school districts will implement for prolonged at-home student learning.

Charleston County School District

In Charleston County, Chief Academic Officer Karolyn Belcher said the school district is taking a two-pronged approach.

Teachers were asked earlier this week to begin preparing 10 days worth of lessons in written form. Students will probably get these lessons in some sort of informational packet, Belcher said on Friday.

“We have to make sure that we're also thinking about those students who live in rural areas or for, whatever reason, don't have internet access. So we don't want our options to be solely dependent on online tools for that reason,” she said.

But in addition to physical hard-copy packets of information, the district also is evaluating its existing online learning capabilities. Some tools that are already being used in and outside of the classroom, including Google Hangout, Lexia Learning and Achieve3000, could potentially be used to help continue student instruction while schools are closed.

The district has been sending students home Chromebooks with students so they can have access to a technology device at home, Belcher said.

Schools’ WiFi signals will also be boosted so “a parent could walk outside of a school building and have access to an internet hub in order to get online,” Belcher said.

Everybody will start with a written packet, Belcher said Friday afternoon. If schools were forced to go beyond a 10-day period with no class and students don’t have any access to internet, the district could use school buses as a way to distribute additional info packets.

District officials have asked all teachers to be available for at least a couple of hours a day to provide feedback and answer students’ questions, Belcher said.

“Asynchronous learning where kids are emailing questions to teachers is not ideal,” Belcher said, so it would be helpful if parents help monitor students’ progress at home if possible.

She said many older students are likely comfortable with some online learning in some capacity, since it’s already a part of the district’s instructional model.

“I think the real place that's a little bit of a transition will be for the elementary school teachers,” Belcher said.

All CCSD staff members have been asked to report to work on Monday and as needed on Tuesday to plan for the closure. 

All school-related activities and travel have been canceled.

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The district will launch "grab and go style meal distribution sites" starting Monday to serve all students. 

Students will be provided with a free lunch and breakfast for the following day at 15 sites across the district. The sites will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students from neighboring districts are also eligible to participate. Parents can call the nutrition services hotline at 843-566-7266 for more info. 

The following sites have been designated for meal distribution:

  • Carolina Voyager Charter
  • Charleston Charter for Math and Science
  • Charleston County School of the Arts
  • Charleston Progressive Academy
  • Chicora Elementary School
  • E.B. Ellington Elementary School
  • Goodwin Elementary School
  • Harborview Elementary School
  • Haut Gap Middle School
  • Ladson Elementary School
  • Laing Middle School
  • Sanders Clyde Elementary School
  • St. James-Santee Elementary-Middle School
  • Stall High School
  • West Ashley Middle School

District spokesman Andy Pruitt said the district would release more information about the district’s plan as it becomes available.

Berkeley County School District

All Berkeley County School District employees will report to work Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the extended school closure. Information on the need for additional work days and schedules will be forthcoming, according to the district’s website.

All after school activities and sporting events are canceled until further notice. School-sponsored child care programs, field trips and other activities have also been suspended.

The school board will meet Monday for an emergency session to consider necessary authorizations for response to the coronavirus.

The school district is one of 15 statewide approved for the eLearning pilot program. Since the program is designed to be a makeup day resource and not as an extended virtual learning platform, the district has modified its eLearning plans to adapt for school closure.

Parents shouldn’t expect to receive any instructional materials or assignments for eLearning from their children’s teachers until Wednesday.

Under the emergency eLearning plan, first- through 12-grade students will need to have a Chromebook and charger checked out from their school. If a student does not have their school-issued electronic device and power adapter, parents should contact their child’s teacher or the school’s front office Monday to learn how to check out a device. Parents will stay outside while the devices are checked out.

Starting Monday, the district will provide free hot lunch and a snack to all students 18-years-old and under at a dozen centrally located schools during the closures as a drive-thru service. Meals can be picked up daily from 11 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. A full list of sites can be found at the district’s website.

Dorchester District 2

District officials in Dorchester School District 2 spent last week putting learning plans in place for continued instruction in case of a school closure, according to spokeswoman Pat Raynor.

The district’s technology to student ratio is not 1-to-1, Raynor said.

Teachers and staff should report to their work sites on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the closings. 

Schools will provide more details to families about plans for continued construction, long-distance learning and food services in the next few days, Raynor said. The district will post updated information on its website and social media platforms. 

A school representative from Dorchester School District 4 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Seanna Adcox contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates. 

Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif. 

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