As the first day of school neared, the parents of Horry County’s virtual learners grew concerned.
“We got a schedule [last] Wednesday, but no information about how to log in, what they’ll be doing, literally no communication,” said Melissa McDonald, whose children attend Whittemore Park Middle School.
This semester, Horry County Schools families had two choices for their kids’ education: go all-virtual for a semester or to head back to brick and mortar buildings in whatever fashion the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) would allow.
Students have not attended regular classes since state officials closed schools on March 13 for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The students whose parents chose the brick and mortar option began school Tuesday on a hybrid schedule, where they were split into Groups A and B, attending two days in person and three days with distance learning from home.
But many HCS Virtual students are still not sure what to do.
Late last week, Horry County Schools sent out messages to parents that incorrectly identified the groups for some students. The district quickly apologized for the mistake and reminded parents to follow the district’s PowerSchool program, which organizes student population and class schedule data, for the correct information for their students.
In the same message, HCS said virtual students would be contacted by their teachers sometime between Sept. 8 and Sept. 11 to ensure students could successfully log in and navigate their courses.
McDonald said her children were excited about school, but they’ve been getting frustrated because as of Tuesday morning they could not log in to their devices to do any work.
McDonald emailed the teachers late last week, and heard from one Monday telling her to contact the district’s IT department if she still could not log in to the system.
“Our goal is to ensure all students will be able to sign in by Monday, Sept. 14. Students will not be penalized if they are unable to log in on Tuesday,” said Horry County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.
Cori Canada, a Carolina Forest Elementary kindergarten teacher who is teaching virtually this semester, is asking parents for patience.
Canada said teacher’s rosters are changing quickly and some teachers simply are not sure about their class schedule yet.
“This first week is learning [the] program, knowing how to log on, making sure you know how to contact your child’s teacher, and making sure your child’s teacher has the correct contact info for you,” Canada said.
“We virtual teachers have been meeting like you wouldn’t believe. It’s all new to us too, but I promise it will be OK.”
Canada urged parents who don’t hear from their teachers at the beginning of this week to email the teacher listed in PowerSchool for their child, instead of going straight to emailing the district office or the school principal immediately.
While rumors circulate on social media about a large number of virtual students who still have yet to be assigned a teacher, Bourcier said the district cannot confirm how many students may not have teachers assigned, nor can district officials provide any enrollment numbers, or numbers of teachers possibly still needed at this time.
“This year, like any other school year, student enrollment numbers are not reported until the 10th day and teacher allocations are dependent on student enrollment,” Bourcier said.
Early College High School teacher Jude Hunt was frustrated last week with the perceived lack of consistency regarding HCS Virtual teacher application responses after he applied for a virtual position.
“I’m pretty apprehensive about coming back,” Hunt said, speaking to the current data regarding the spread of COVID-19.
Hunt, who is in his 25th year of teaching, found out he was only given a part-time virtual position, in addition to one in-person class he will be teaching at his brick and mortar location.
His commute to school is just over an hour round-trip, so now he will make that commute to teach one class, then go home.
“I met above and beyond all the qualifications, and I even have specific endorsements to teach online classes in the state of South Carolina,” he said.
Some educators on social media expressed frustration recently that they did not apply for virtual positions but were then told by their principals that they will be teaching for HCS Virtual because there is a need for more virtual instructors.
Hunt said it’s really frustrating for him to hear about such a dire need for virtual teachers when he did not get the full-time virtual position for which he had been hoping.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason to it,” he said.
As for what his job situation could look like after this fall, Hunt said he was told that there might be a full-time virtual position available.
“But they also said they don’t know what is going to happen the second semester,” Hunt said.
Bourcier reiterated that student enrollment drives all placement decisions.
“With this in mind, if an educator would like to exit the virtual placement [after the semester] and return to a brick and mortar site, it is the intent of HCS to return the educator to the previous assignment,” the district said in their website’s FAQ section regarding virtual teaching.
The district’s Q&A section also says that because employee placement is determined by student enrollment, “there can be no absolute guarantee” regarding whether the educator can definitely return to his or her old position.
“There are all these question marks. It creates a lot of anxiety,” Hunt said.
Canada remains hopeful things will fall into place.
“By Friday, I hope everyone can feel a little better about how the virtual program will go,” she said.