By LEE G. HEALY
Published: Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 3:15 a.m.
About 200 Byrnes High School students might not have biology textbooks when they return to school in less than two weeks.
Spartanburg District 5 officials say they’ll dip into their own pockets to get students books for what they say will be a required course after learning the books will not be provided by the S.C. Department of Education, but they might not be there in time for the first day. State officials said the course is not required, so the requested biology textbooks will not be issued.
District 5 asked for about 200 biology books to accommodate an increase in the number of students signed up for freshman- and sophomore-level courses. Superintendent Scott Turner said many freshmen will take applied biology 1 in the coming year — the first in a two-course study of biology elements to be tested on a federally mandated end-of-course exam during their second year of high school. Students on a faster track can elect to take just one biology course before taking the end-of-course exam, Turner explained, but offering the subject in two parts helps more students succeed.
“Our district’s very forward thinking,” said Pat Monteith, principal of the Byrnes Freshman Academy. “Everything we do is to help our kids be successful. This was quite a blow for us. We’re trying to do something proactive for our students and our hands are tied.”
End-of-course tests are required in science, as well as algebra 1, English 1 and U.S. history. Exams count toward 20 percent of students’ grades.
Turner said he only recently learned the books weren’t coming.
“It’s not acceptable,” he said. “We want to improve education in South Carolina, but you don’t want to give us the materials to work with?”
Jay Ragley, director of legislative and public affairs for the state Department of Education, said high school freshmen should still be taking physical science until the U.S. Department of Education approves a new biology assessment. Ragley said the state Department of Education will not pay for books that aren’t yet needed, and the decision to offer applied biology to freshmen was a district choice, not a state or federal mandate.
“In this specific case, this is not about biology textbooks in general,” Ragley said. “This is about the district making a decision without the state Department of Education and electing to offer applied biology 1 in the ninth-grade year instead of physical science.”
Ragley said both physical science and biology credits will count as the required science course for graduation until further action is taken at the federal level. Turner said the district was acting on information that the required science would change from physical science to biology in the coming year.
Turner said that while district leaders had hoped the books would be funded by the state Department of Education, he is prepared to pay the more than $10,000 needed to buy biology textbooks for all students who need them.
Ragley said District 5 turned down an offer from the state department to provide a classroom set of applied biology textbooks for students to use at school, in addition to supplemental online information.
“These students will have the ability to master the material,” Ragley said. “It just may not be in the form of their own individualized textbook.”
Turner said he never received the offer and wouldn’t have turned down free books.
Monteith and Byrnes High School Principal Jeff Rogers said they hope the issue is resolved before students arrive Aug. 15.
“We hope we can have (textbooks) here by the time school starts, but regardless, we’re going to have books,” Rogers said. “The textbook is not the only source teachers use, but it’s the primary source. Kids need textbooks to study at home.”
Monteith likened individual student textbooks to a welder’s blowtorch — a necessary tool of the trade. Students need their own books, she said, to take home to study and do homework.
“Our district’s going to do what’s right for the kids,” Monteith said. “Science is such a critical need for our kids for the future. Math and science applies to their everyday lives. If the state’s not giving us these resources, how are they going to compete?”