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Families opting for virtual instruction as COVID-19 case counts rise

Plenty of Rock Hill students will again be learning from home this coming school year.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — As COVID-19 case counts continue to rise, parents in Rock Hill still have the option to enroll their children in Rock Hill School’s virtual academy just days before the first day of school.

Superintendent Bill Cook said in the last two weeks, the district has seen an uptick in families who are opting to enroll their children in virtual classrooms for the start of the academic year.

“We’re excited that we can offer families that option,” Cook said.

Communications director Lindsay Machack said while the increase in families opting for remote learning at the last minute isn’t a large one, families are grateful to still have choices.

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Most school districts in the Charlotte metropolitan area required families to lock in their choice of in-person or remote learning months ago. Rock Hill sent out forms of intent for families in the spring, but caregivers did not have to begin making final selections until late July. Families will still be able to make their choice through the end of the first week of school.

“We wanted to offer flexibility toward the start of the year because we didn’t know what the landscape was going to be,” Machak said.

Rising COVID-19 case counts in recent weeks and the lack of a mask mandate in South Carolina schools have made some families reconsider whether to send their children back to class in person, Cook said.

With four days until the first day of school, about 5% of the district’s students were enrolled in the Virtual Academy; for comparison, the 2020-2021 school year saw about 25% of all students enrolled virtually, Machak said.

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In response to requests from families that wanted the ability to toggle in and out of remote learning, the school district is also allowing students to switch from one mode to the other at the end of each grading period.

“We really needed to create opportunities that seemed more natural when they transition back and forth,” Cook said.

Despite not having a final headcount, teachers are feeling more confident heading into this school year compared to last, said Derek McQuiston, the director of the Rock Hill Elementary Virtual Academy.

“Our pressure is certainly less this year,” McQuiston said. “We are in a really great place. We’re excited about this school year. We learned so much from last year.”

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The Rock Hill Virtual Academy program accepts students from kindergarten through 12th grade. New this year, virtual students will have some opportunities for in-person engagement with their classmates and their teachers. McQuiston said last year taught valuable lessons for the educators to incorporate in remote instruction moving forward.

"We’ve been down this road; we know some of the obstacles and challenges we’re going to face,” he said. “As educators, we meet students where they are and then we take them where we need them to go.”

For more information about the Rock Hill Schools Virtual Academy, click here.

Contact Tanya Mendis at tmendis@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. 

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