HCS parent shares son’s virtual program experience, hopes to spark change in district

Horry County parent urges for change in virtual school program

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - A Horry County parent is sharing her child’s story in the hopes of shedding light on what some parents are dealing with this school year.

This comes after her son’s school told her he must withdraw from the district’s virtual program altogether.

Sadie Johnston has three children, ages 11, 7 and 3. Johnston and her husband are working from home while also raising their three kids.

Her eldest two kids are enrolled in Horry County Schools.

“My oldest is still part of the virtual program,” Johnston said. “It’s been a struggle. He’s typically an A/B student and right now Cs and high Ds. He’s in gifted classes. He’s really been struggling to be able to comprehend everything and get everything done because there’s a lot of reading. There’s isn’t a lot of hands-on [with] his teacher to be able to help him and look on with the different things he needs help with. He has to set-up separate times with Google meets and phone calls to try and meet with his teachers to try and work through it.”

Johnston said her middle child, Cooper, had also been enrolled in the virtual program at Burgess Elementary School. She said he’s now faced with the reality of having to be homeschooled after she received both a phone call and email notifying her about his withdrawal from the virtual learning program.

Johnston said she learned about the withdrawal by phone first in November and later received an email.

Below is a portion of the email Johnston provided to our news team from the school which states the email sender is the assistant principal for Burgess Elementary:

“Thank you for talking with me today. Unfortunately, Cooper will be withdrawn from virtual school, effective November 10, due to absences from class and missing work.”

The email stated the reason for the withdrawal was due to absences from class and missing work.

“We had been in touch with his teacher, the attendance woman at the school, as well as the vice principal, letting them know he is struggling and this is very hard,” Johnston said.

Johnston said Cooper had struggled with his schoolwork before the pandemic and hoped that would’ve helped the staff understand better his educational needs for the virtual environment.

“He repeated kindergarten,” Johnston said. “He was on the younger end when he started. He turned five right before school started. We opted to hold him back and have him do kindergarten again. And that part was very disappointing because he had the same teacher from last year this year. I thought with her already knowing the situation and knowing Cooper needs a bit more hands-on help, we’d have a better understanding of what was happening. But it got to the point they decided he could no longer be in the virtual program.”

Johnston acknowledges Cooper had been struggling in the virtual environment throughout this semester. She said her family talked with the school about Cooper falling behind and trying to catch up, prior to being notified that Cooper would be dropped from the virtual program.

“I had to have an attendance meeting because it was showing [Cooper] was behind in his assignments,” Johnston said. “I was told it would take a lot for him to get to [any] point of him having any sort of repercussions. I had a conversation with the attendance person at the school and she said all we can ask is that you do as much as you can and get as caught up as quickly as you can. And I told her we were working on that.”

Johnston said the school told her Cooper would have to either switch into the brick-and-mortar program or to do homeschooling. At that time, school leaders were notifying parents about the window of time they would be permitted to make a program switch for the Spring semester.

Johnston said brick-and-mortar is not an option for her family because Cooper’s older sibling, who’s 11 years old, has a heart condition and doctors advised her family that staying home would be the safest option for her family.

“My eldest son has heart disease,” Johnston said. “He’s had two open-heart surgeries already. He is considered high risk if he were to get COVID-19. We were told from his pediatrician no school.”

Johnston said her family communicated that information to the school staff and the challenges Cooper faced without more digital interactions with his teacher.

“I did not necessarily appreciate the lack of understanding I guess,” Johnston said. “I thought we were being understood. I thought we had a good line of communication and what was going on with Cooper and what course of action needed to be taken.”

Johnston said her family is doing all they can to figure out the homeschool environment, which she said comes at an unexpected high-cost and resources they’re still trying to figure out for Cooper’s learning environment.

“For me to come up with all this money for this homeschooling situation, it’s terrible timing [on] all parts,” Johnston said.

She hopes sharing this story will shed more light on what some families are going through during this pandemic, balancing work-life, family life, while trying to provide the safest and best learning environment for their kids. She also hopes changes will be made at the start of the second semester with the virtual learning experience.

“My personal opinion would be more interaction with the teachers,” Johnston said. “More directional time with them would really benefit these kids, a designated time, even if it was just 2-3 days out of the week and not every single day, where they’re sitting down and learning for the week. I understand we’re all learning and this is all new to everybody. I’m sure we’re not the only family that has medical reasons as to why their kids can’t attend school. I just don’t think it’s fair to basically punish these kids for having a hard time adjusting and being able to complete this crazy amount of work. [I just want to] get it out there, even if it doesn’t make a big change if it at least plants a seed for somebody to make some of these changes or at least re-evaluate what they’re doing. I’m happy with that. I just don’t want to see a ton of other people struggling the way my son had been struggling through this.”

Johnston said she’s working to get Cooper into homeschooling now before completely pulling him out of the school.

Our news team reached out to the Horry County Schools for a statement regarding Johnston’s experience and to receive clarification about when schools are to recommend a program change or homeschooling to families.

Horry County School District spokesperson Lisa Bourcier provided this statement to WMBF News in response to those concerns:

“While I cannot comment on the educational status of an individual student, the virtual environment may not be suitable for all students. Information was provided to parents regarding the second-semester instructional options. This information included what to expect regarding the K-12 Virtual Program and what parents should consider before enrolling students.”

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