Gov. McMaster calls on school districts to submit reopening plans for Sept. 8; teachers oppose push

State - Regional

COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) – Gov. McMaster said parents must have a choice between whether they want to send their children to the classroom or whether they want them to stay at home for virtual learning.

McMaster on Wednesday called on all public school districts to submit reopening plans and to consider Sept. 8 as the starting date. The day after labor day is the last day schools must reopen, according to state law.

Child abuse and neglect reports are down significantly, McMaster said, because children are not in schools to file complaints. “We suspect incidents have gone up during this time, but the children are not in schools to report them,” he said.

Children have dropped off the radar because they are not physically coming to school each day, McMaster said.

Molly Spearman, state superintendent of education, wasn’t at the press conference with the governor on Wednesday. She said in an email to News13, parents should be given the option to choose, but the goal must be a return to a five-day-a-week, in-person instruction as safely and as soon as possible.”

Spearman said she will only approve those school plans that offer high-quality options and keep safety as their top priority.

“We cannot, however, turn a blind eye to the health and safety of our students and staff when the spread of the virus in some of our communities is among the highest in the world,” Spearman wrote in the email. “School leaders, in consultation with public health experts, are best positioned to determine how in-person operations should be carried out to fit the needs of their local communities.”

The Palmetto State Teachers Association said it opposes McMaster’s push for all districts to operate in-person instruction, five days a week, “without regard for the status of the coronavirus pandemic.”

“If health conditions do not improve, it would be irresponsible and dangerous to require a return to full in-person instruction,” the PSTA added. “…the continued high rate of spread of the coronavirus poses a significant, and potentially deadly, health risk for students and staff.”

The PSTA wants districts to follow the recommendations of the AccelerateED task force. According to that report, schools should operate in a distance learning model as long as the rate of spread of COVID-19, as measured by DHEC, is “high” in a county. Currently, 45 of our 46 counties fall into that category.

According to DHEC data, most school districts in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee areas don’t meet the Accelerate ED standards to hold in-person classes. For schools in areas with high recent disease activity, full distance learning is recommended.

Rep. Greg Hembree said the most vulnerable children in South Carolina will suffer the greatest if schools do not open. He said data shows on average students have lost a semester. “Other countries are reopening schools very successfully, safely,” he said. “If they can do it in Korea, and Sweden, we can do it in South Carolina.”

According to the governor, $60 million in CARES Act funds are available for districts to use to ensure classrooms are safe.

“Nothing is more essential than giving each of our children an excellent education,” McMaster emphasized. Children have lost valuable progress, McMaster added, because “We know that over the summer, the things that students learn, they lose.”

McMaster said they are aware that students in rural parts of the state have no access to internet, but said they are working on a broadband plan.

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