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Online-only SC schools report surge in enrollment

The Cyber Academy of South Carolina (CASC), for example, said it expected to enroll roughly 2,000 students last year. It instead received 5,200 - a school record.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Online schooling is on the rise in South Carolina.

Peak numbers were reported during the pandemic, and one school says they are nearing capacity already.

News19 learned more behind this increased interest from both administrators and students.

Jacob Monn from Simpsonville recently made the switch to an online-only school.

"I get all my work done and I basically have the rest of the day to do whatever I want which is usually practice," said Jacob. "I get to spend more time doing what I love to do."

He is a junior at South Carolina Whitmore School, a tuition-free public charter online high school. As a student-athlete, Jacob needed an education with flexibility. 

"He'll be able to set his own schedule and get work done at his own pace," said Jacob's mother, Kathleen Monn.

Jacob went pro last year in disk golf, which requires frequent travel.

"If you have an internet connection on your computer, you can sit down and do your work," said Jacob's father, Greg Monn. "So when he gets home late Sunday night after a four-hour drive, he can sleep in Monday morning and adjust his schedule and do classes in the afternoon instead."

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Jacob is one of the thousands of students in South Carolina switching to online learning.

Ebone Adams, the principal of South Carolina Whitmore School, said the uptick in enrollment started last year.

"It's been like a 30% increase in enrollment," she said. 

Right now, SC Whitmore is nearing capacity with roughly 20 spots available out of 450.

"School started Aug. 18 and courses are already full," said Adams. "We've had to get more part-time teachers to support the increased enrollment."

Adams said the reasons for the increase vary. Some students may need to be able to travel and others want dual-enrollment to take college courses.

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For many, the pandemic played a role. Adams said they have more mental health resources available to students who seek that type of support.

"Families have lost jobs during the pandemic and some of our students have had to step up to support families and work," said Adams. "They cannot do that working in a traditional setting."

Eighty percent of students who enrolled with Whitmore last year stayed put. Currently, the school enrolls 20 to 25 new students every week.

"There was a huge uptick last fall. We're seeing a similar surge in enrollment right now," said Michael White, the Operations Manager of the Cyber Academy of South Carolina (CASC), a tuition-free online public school for K-12 students.

Last year, their enrollment numbers made history. They planned for numbers in the 2,000's and got 5,200 students.

"We saw a massive uptick in enrollment when there was instability, not knowing whether or not school was going to be offered zero days a week, five days a week, trying to figure out child care and all of that," said White. "Once we got into August [this year], it became evident that with the Delta variant, it was more of the same."

These past two weeks, White said the school received 100 applicants every day.

"Especially now, with the Delta variant and without the vaccine available for the younger grades, we're seeing a big jump in those grades especially," he said.

In 2020, CASC hired over 100 staff members to handle the surge in students.

"There's a lot of disruption during the pandemic," said Adams. "The education for our students should not be one of those."

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