Horry County Schools confirmed Monday that all 3,031 HCS Virtual K-12 student requests to transfer back to brick-and-mortar schools were granted.
According to HCS Chief Academic Officer Boone Myrick, all the transfer requests for in-person students to change over to HCS Virtual were granted as well.
While that will make a large number of families happy, many parents are upset that making this shift also included moving teachers already bonded with students, among other concerns with the HCS Virtual program in general.
Whitney Freeman, whose six-year-old son Cameron is special education student in the district, understands why the change was made, but said parents are more frustrated because all the changes seem to be falling back on them.
Two weeks ago, HCS Virtual parents were given the option to submit a request and have their child return to their base school for in-person learning “as space allowed”, and those wanting to leave the physical classroom and go to virtual could submit one also.
HCS in-person students are currently attending in a hybrid format, with two days in the classroom and three days of distance learning, according to the recent S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Disease Activity Report.
Cameron’s already-beloved teacher was asked to move back to a physical classroom and her virtual students, including Cameron, were assigned to a new teacher.
“It was all tears here [the other night] because we love her [Cameron’s teacher.] He had her last year, and now she’s getting moved back. The one familiar face he actually knows is moving back,” Freeman said.
Dean Blumberg, a parent of an HCS fourth-grader and online instructor for a local technical school, spoke to the board during public comment Monday night and said that relationships are critical in online learning.
Blumberg said learning about their teacher is a big part of his child’s learning process.
“My children had one week of getting to see, hear and interact [with their teacher] before being blindsided that [the teacher] was leaving and a new teacher would be taking over,” Blumberg said. “This means all the critical relationship building has to start all over again.”
Blumberg said that his correspondence from HCS officials asked him to be patient and said some things were “unfortunate”, but he said he knew what he would tell his daughter if she asked why her teacher changed.
“When my child asks why her stressed out teacher is holding back tears on the Google Meet when she informed the class that she just learned she’s going to be leaving, I won’t tell her it’s unfortunate and to be patient. I’ll tell her mismanagement and lack of support from Horry County Schools caused it,” Blumberg said.
Mark Porter, executive director of elementary education with HCS, confirmed that as a result of balancing classes, some students in the brick-and-mortar schools and the virtual program were assigned to different teachers.
“This is not unlike the same process we follow at the beginning of every school year when fluctuations in enrollment occur and we must move teachers to balance classes,” Porter said.
Porter said that making changes in schedules and/or teacher assignments as needed is an inevitable part of the beginning of every school year.
HCS parent Kate Martin also spoke during public comment, agreeing with Blumberg.
“It is disingenuous to pass off what happened as an inevitable part of the school year,” Martin said.
Martin said that the only source of helpful information she had was a group of fellow HCS Virtual parents that banded together in a Facebook group.
“Some families chose virtual due to COVID-19, but a lot of us chose it for the structure, to avoid the week-by-week. … HCS Virtual has been the opposite of structure,” Martin said.
Edi Cox, executive director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology with HCS, said 17 teachers in the virtual program are returning to brick-and-mortar schools.
“In order to make the transition as efficient as possible for students returning to brick-and-mortar classrooms on Monday, Sept. 28, principals, assistant principals and instructional coaches provided support to returning teachers who were setting up classrooms,” Cox said.
Teachers, who usually spend weeks setting up their classrooms before school begins, had Thursday and Friday of last week to set up their rooms for the transferred students.
“These teachers also continued to support their currently assigned students in the virtual program during this transition,” Cox said.
Pamela Jakubowski, a parent of HCS students in the Loris area, told the board she found it alarming that there were no workbooks to help with fine motor skills and no clear-cut guidelines for virtual teachers, and was unhappy with the amount of live instruction and office hours.
“Not even two weeks in, and your solution to the vast confusion of a poorly-planned virtual program was to reopen enrollment, which has only exacerbated the issues,” Jakubowski said.
Alison Richardson was happy to hear that her request was granted to have her children return to in-person school.
Unlike a number of parents in the district, Richardson was able to stay home and help her children with the HCS Virtual work, but regardless of the fun school set-up she provided in their home, it wasn’t the same.
The amount of time spent in front of a screen was more than she imagined.
“Mentally and emotionally, I feel like it was a lot to cover. The amount of time in front of the screen, the amount to read, stuff we’d have to print off, it was a ridiculous amount. We were told we would be required to spend four to five hours a day on this stuff but didn’t know we’d be [physically] in front of the computer so much – it was a lot to ask for myself, let alone my first-grader,” Richardson said.
It began to take a toll on her daughter, even though they tried having story time and science outside, and Richardson said her virtual teacher was wonderful, yet her daughter was “down in the dumps, and definitely missing something big.”
“Sometimes she’d just sit and stare and let the tears fall,” Richardson said. “When I found out they were opening up the option [to go back in school], I said ‘Thank you, Lord, that’s got to be better!’ It’s got to be better than what we [were] doing right here. Mentally, it’s not healthy.”
While Superintendent Rick Maxey said during the last school board work session that parents requesting to transfer their child back should continue in HCS Virtual until they hear about their request, Richardson said that after she submitted the request, she was immediately locked out of PowerSchool, the district’s student data management software.
She also was not able to access Genius and Buzz, the other apps her children needed to access in order to complete work that week following her request.
She’s confident though that her children will catch up and thrive.
“[The principal] called me and was so sweet, saying she was so excited to welcome them back. Their teachers have reached out and added me to their apps,” Richardson said. “Every family is different. People who have autoimmune disorders or other life-threatening illnesses, [virtual] is totally understandable for them. But for our children’s mentality … it’s just not the same as being in the classroom with structure.”
Cox said that principals were charged with student placement at the school level in terms of how HCS Virtual students were placed back into classrooms.
“Multiple factors include, but are not limited to, current enrollment, demographics, assessment data and individual student needs,” Porter said.
Parent Ronald Dinley also spoke to the board during public comment about his six children in HCS Virtual, and how he’s also upset with what he says is a “blatant disregard” for virtual students.
“This is our future. We have dumped on our future. ... It’s unacceptable,” Dinley said.
Maxey confirmed that the DHEC Disease Activity Report will now be released on Thursdays instead of Mondays, according to information from DHEC. This will give three extra days to plan for the following week of instruction.