Boosted by $32 million tuition grant, South Carolina private schools prepare to reopen

State - Regional

DARLINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – Private schools are working on their plans to start classes this fall during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Henry McMaster announced on Monday that $32 million in grant money would be available to fund tuition at independent schools. It’s called the Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) Grant.

Students at Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School will benefit from the SAFE Grants program.

“We’re fortunate we have a 100-acre campus and we’ve got numerous buildings here,” said Ed Hoffman, who’s the head of school at Trinity-Byrnes. “We’ve always had small classes.”

Hoffman says the roughly 320 students in grades 6-12 will get three choices to go to class this fall. Trinity-Byrnes will offer traditional classes, virtual ones and a hybrid of alternating weeks of in-person and distance learning.

Color-coded phases will be used as the school monitors data from the CDC and state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

“All students will be required to bring a mask to school,” said Hoffman. “If they don’t have a mask, then we’ll give them one. We have a temperature check. We have an isolation room.”

The SAFE program will allow students at private schools like Trinity-Byrnes to apply for a one-time, need-based grant of up to $6,500. The money comes from the federal CARES Act and is for eligible students attending private, parochial or independent schools in the state.

To qualify, a student’s household must have an adjusted gross income of 300% or less of the federal poverty level.

“There are about 50,000 children in our private and independent schools,” Gov. McMaster said. “A lot of them, in even the best economy, are barely able to make ends meet.”

That could cover about 75% of the tuition listed on the Trinity-Byrnes website of $8,290, which is the price if it was paid in full by June 15. The website also says tuition is slightly higher when paying by semester or monthly.

Hoffman says the SAFE Grants may help fund new students and keep current ones.

“We also recognize that there’s a number of families in our own school and certainly throughout the Pee Dee region that are stressed and strained,” he said.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association and SC for Ed oppose the SAFE Grant. The groups say the $32 million should go to public schools.

Hoffman says the money will prevent students from losing access to the education they already have.

“It’s really a fair playing field if you will because, as I said, we’re an alternative to the public school,” he said. “We’re not in competition with the public school.”

Trinity-Byrnes also is not delaying the start of its school year. Hoffman says this will allow for several weeks of classes before a possible rise in flu cases along with COVID-19 in the fall.

Classes at Trinty-Byrnes will begin in exactly one month on Aug. 20.

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