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April Wilson balances unemployment and two children in her Carolina Forest home back in April during school closures. With morning cartoons playing in the living room, Wilson holds her son Dylan Stocksdale, 4, while daughter Lexi Stocksdale, 8, works on a school assignment. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

As parents across the district try to make decisions about sending their children back to school this Fall, virtual school options have seen a significant uptick in enrollment, some even setting a cap on how many students they can take.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Dr. Cherry Daniel, head of South Carolina Virtual Charter School (SCVCS). “Enrollment has spiked and continues to spike.”

SCVCS is a full-time, tuition-free K-12 online public school.

Daniel said that SCVCS served 3,200 kids last year, and right now enrollment is creeping toward the 5,000 mark.

SCVCS has been in operation for 12 years, according to Daniel, and she says that their teachers are highly-qualified and “trained exceptionally well to be able to deliver a very successful, engaging online experience.”

“When this thing first started, we surmised it would happen where we’d see a large number of kids coming to our school … we have to be careful we don’t outstrip our resources,” Daniel said. “We planned for it … we will have the same quality instruction.”

While she did say that they may be hiring more teachers, Daniel was quick to say that SCVCS is very selective.

“We don’t hire brand-new teachers. They must have a minimum of five years of experience,” Daniel said.

It’s important that the teachers know how things function in a face-to-face classroom first, she said.

SCVCS is very structured, Daniel said, and teachers have office hours where parents and students can ask questions and get extra help.

South Carolina Connections Academy is another tuition-free K-12 virtual public school, whose population of students has grown so much they recently set an enrollment cap of 6,500 students.

“We pride ourselves on healthy and responsible growth and implemented the enrollment cap to ensure that each student receives the support they need from their teachers and administrators,” said Josh Kitchens, executive director of South Carolina Connections Academy (SCCA).

Kitchens said that last year, they served around 5,250 students and said they expect to meet that cap.

They also are in the process of hiring more teachers, Kitchens said.

“Like a traditional brick-and-mortar public school, we need to ensure we have adequate staffing in place to serve all of our students,” Kitchens said.

SCCA opened in 2008, according to its website, and says their curriculum is carefully designed to provide a “true, full-time online education” with a team of state-certified teachers and counselors who have received special training in full-time online instruction, “including how to best meet the needs of students without a brick and mortar component.”

K12, Inc., who provides the curriculum and services necessary for public and private schools to set up their own customized full-time and part-time online programs (and for supplemental online and blended education), operates more than 70 schools in 35 states, including SCVCS and another virtual option, the Cyber Academy of South Carolina (CASC).

Dana Still, senior manager of corporate communications with K12, Inc., said that roughly 1,900 students got their education through CASC last year.

Still said it was still too early to say for sure how enrollment may be impacted for the Fall, but K12 has seen increased interest in their online schools.

“Enrollment applications across all K12-powered schools are up by more than 50 percent,” Still said.

Due to this growth, K12 plans to hire as many as 1,300 teachers across all the schools they serve.

Horry County Schools also has their own online option, HCS Virtual.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, HCS Virtual was an option for high schoolers to take some select courses or recovery credits for certain classes, but the school is expanding to a full K-12 operation for the upcoming school year.

Enrollment numbers for their first-time initial credit courses only for the 2019-2020 school year was around 1,000 students, according to HCS spokesperson Lisa Bourcier.

Bourcier said that number does not include enrollment in their credit recovery courses.

HCS Virtual’s supplemental program has a rolling enrollment, where students may enroll in supplemental courses at any time during the school year, Bourcier said.

“All classes offered by HCS Virtual are taught by district teachers who are certified by the State of South Carolina,” Bourcier said.

Current numbers for students planning to attend HCS Virtual full-time this fall were not yet available. Bourcier said that dates and deadlines for enrolling for the full-time virtual program will be set as re-opening plans are finalized.

The Horry County Board of Education plans to meet for their first face-to-face meeting since the COVID-19 closures at the District Office on Monday at 6 p.m., according to board chairman Ken Richardson.

The board will be taking a final vote on the district’s re-opening plans before they are sent to State Superintendent Molly Spearman’s office for final approval.

The board voted earlier this month to move the start date of school, in whatever format it begins, to September 8.

Check back with My Horry News for updates.

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