More than 600 northern Beaufort County high school students have had to attend school on Saturdays to make up for excessive absences this year, and a local advocacy group is calling into question the quality of instruction they have received.
The ability to make up for lost class time allows struggling students the opportunity to pass classes they may have otherwise failed, which in turn may give them the credits they need to graduate on time.
“Teachers develop a program of study for the student using computer software that offers course-specific content and includes built-in assessments to ensure that the student has mastered the content,” spokesman Jim Foster said, referencing the district’s Virtual Learning Procedures Manual.
Many school districts nationwide have seen graduation rates soar after introducing online credit recovery such as Beaufort County’s, though some education experts say it’s a poor substitute for face-to-face teachers, Slate reported.
Citizens Advocating Responsible Education, commonly known as CARE, has been skeptical of the district’s attendance rates and policies and in late March requested that the state Department of Education conduct an attendance audit of the district.
The state agency spoke with district officials and reviewed relevant documentation over a two-month period.
“Based upon this, (we) have found no violation of State Board of Education regulations or South Carolina state law regarding student attendance,” spokesman Ryan Brown wrote in an email.
CARE, led by Rich Bisi, formed in the wake of superintendent Jeff Moss’ 2015 ethics violations and has been a thorn in the side of the school district ever since.
On several occasions, Moss has denied all of CARE’s claims outright, dismissing them as “nothing of fact” and with “absolutely no basis” and said that the district is “in complete compliance with state attendance regulations.”
While all Beaufort County high school students who have fallen behind on instructional time must make up for it, the three northern-area high schools are the only ones offering Saturday time as opposed to time before and after a regular school day.
Roughly a quarter of students at each of the three northern-area high schools were notified that they “may have exceeded” the maximum allowable amount of missed instructional time and were invited to spend Saturdays making up for absences.
Whale Branch Early College High has offered their attendance recovery program every Saturday during the year, except on holidays, to students for at least two years, but this is the first time Battery Creek High and Beaufort High are offering the program on Saturdays instead of before and after school hours during the week, as was the case in the past, Foster said.
355 of 1,334 Beaufort High School
217 of 842 Battery Creek High School
124 of 498 Whale Branch Early College High School Source: Beaufort County School District, S.C. Department of Education
It’s unclear why the switch to Saturdays was made.
“The decision on make-up is each principal’s to make,” Foster said.
Over the course of four Saturdays, 276 Beaufort High students participated. At Battery Creek, which offered the program on three Saturdays, 216 students attended. The number of Whale Branch students sitting in on Saturdays ranges from a handful to a high of 25 on a particular Saturday last month, he said.
High schools offer four 85- or 90-minute periods per day for a total of 5.75 or 6 hours of instructional time. The Saturday program, however, runs five hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Students were counseled individually and told whether they would need to attend part of one Saturday, all four Saturdays, or all four Saturdays plus additional time or summer school to catch up, Foster explained.
If a student attended all four days the program was offered, he or she could recoup 16 absences, according to the Beaufort High School letter sent home to parents and shared with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
State law requires a student to be in attendance for at least 120 hours per credit or must demonstrate proficiency as determined by the school district.
Attendance and seat time were of particular importance this past fall when the district shuttered schools for nine days, eight for Hurricane Matthew and one for Tropical Storm Hermine.