DSS talks back-to-school for foster children as family voices concerns

Pee Dee

FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Parents across South Carolina face some tough decisions as school districts offer choices between virtual and in person learning.

For Linda and Thurmond Becote of Florence, who are foster parents to 16-year-old Avon Stoutamire, the choice was clearly virtual.

“We don’t want to take those chances,” Thurmond Becote said. “We’re not going to take those chances. With our health. And the health of our families.”

An added health concern for the family is Linda, who is a cancer survivor.

But the family has concerns over the back-to-school process for foster families after receiving guidance from the state Department of Social Services via email.

“What they’re basically saying is that they prefer them going to face to face in person instruction at school,” Becote said. “Unless there is some extenuating circumstances such as what we have. To allow them to do the virtual instruction at all.”

That concern prompted Avon to speak out with a letter directed at state officials.

“Parents shouldn’t have to give a reason why they don’t want their children to go to public schools in the middle of a widespread deadly virus with no vaccine or cure,” Stoutamire said. “Foster or not.”

News13 spoke with SC DSS officials about the concerns. Officials say there are many different scenarios between the dozens of districts and thousands of foster children. The agency says the cases are handled on an individual basis to accommodate that.

“At no point did our guidance say that children who are in foster care could not do virtual,” Director of Permanency Management Dawn Barton said. “I can’t even think of a reason we would deny virtual.”

Barton said input from foster parents, and sometimes biological parents as well as the children themselves are all considered.

“If an in person option is available in their school district, then it is preferred, but we also know that everybody’s situation is different and individualized,” she said.

Some of the considerations to go virtual include health conditions and potential need for extra support.

“The guidance talks about the decision really needs to be made by- I call it the team,” Barton said. “Because every child and every family has a team. And so you’re not making decisions in sort of a vacuum.”

DSS says foster families should get in touch with their case managers as they decide what’s best for the upcoming school year.

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