COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Education announced its final recommendations for returning to school this fall during a news conference Monday afternoon.
The plan gives school districts flexibility to determine whether in-person learning, distance learning, or a combination of the two should occur.
State Superintendent Molly Spearman says parents will be able to choose if their child returns to in-person learning, and each district will have a plan in place for those parents who feel uncomfortable sending their children back inside a classroom.
Spearman says school districts will be sending out surveys to parents asking which learning plan works best for their family.
“Some of you parents may have even received surveys from your schools asking your intentions for your children in the fall. Please respond to those. They will help in addressing the social and emotional needs of staff and students. COVID-19 has placed extreme stress on everyone, and school communities will need to be prepared to offer support services,” said Superintendent Spearman.
The state is working to prepare school districts who didn’t have the full capacity to do distance learning virtually, and Spearman noted many school districts are choosing to spend money from the CARES Act on e-learning materials and devices for students.
Students and teachers will not be required to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to school. DHEC is not recommending wide-scale testing at schools right now because the agency says the tests only represent a snapshot in time. The Department of Education will be working with DHEC to determine the spread of the virus in each district and which learning plan should be implemented accordingly.
“In our report, we list low, medium, high, and many states have used that same model. We are working now to get more into the details on how that should operate. And we’ll be working and communicating with our local district superintendents and the chairs of their school boards for them to make the safest and best decision based on that data,” Spearman explained.
The recommended guidelines also suggest districts remove any absence penalties for students or teachers that could cause them to come to school even if they aren’t feeling well.
As districts work to figure out scheduling for the next school year, the state does not want the burden to fall on teachers to have to prepare in-person and distance learning plans for students in the same class.
“Teachers should not have to do both. They should not have to prepare for lessons for the children in their class and then turn around and prepare lessons for virtual. So, that’s why we’re trying to give as much support as we can by developing content at the agency that can be used virtually by offering more virtual programs, and districts are doing the same thing and offering their own virtual schools,” said Spearman.
The Department of Education will request a waiver for state and federal tests for the next school year. Superintendent Spearman says she’s heard the cries from parents and teachers, and she agrees that waiving testing will allow more time for instruction and create less anxiety for students and teachers.
The Department of Education is also asking the General Assembly to create grants and funds that will give school districts the money they need to implement the recommended safety measures.
Each school district is asked to report its learning plan to the Department of Education 20 days before the start of the school year. However, the AccelerateED task force did not list has a date when parents should be notified of those plans.
You can read the full 92-page document from AccelerateED below.