COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The debate continues how best to move forward with educating children in South Carolina.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates strongly for physical learning. SC for Ed called the push “problematic at best.”
Leaders from the Palmetto State Teachers Association are extremely concerned about reopening schools doors too quickly. For example, in the AccelerateED report, there are clear guidelines provided by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on what to do if a student is suspected or has COVID-19.
Government of Affairs Director with PSTA Patrick Kelly pointed to resource disparities within schools that will create health risks for students and staff.
“The entire pivot point for those recommendations is action by the school nurse, by a trained health professional,” said Kelly. “There are hundreds of schools that lack a school nurse. That’s not a healthy and safe environment.”
Creating a safe environment also requires districts to monitor local coronavirus spread. Kelly said fewer than 10 school districts would qualify to resume in-person education in a modified setting due to the high rate of disease activity shown in DHEC data. No districts in the Midlands would be eligible under these guidelines to resume in-person learning at this time.
“Above all, districts should weigh the safety and well-being of students and staff above all other instructional priorities,” said Kelly, “and, unfortunately, at this moment, we are not in that place in South Carolina.”
Kelly said PSTA will submit a letter to state leaders asking them to ensure that school districts comply with the recommendations from DHEC and the AccelerateED task force when weighing options on reopening. Also, PSTA will ask the state to fund schools to meet the requirements fully.
At Wednesday’s Senate subcommittee hearing, Dr. Deborah Greenhouse of the Palmetto Pediatric and Adolescent Clinic shared why she thinks it’s vital for children to be back in a classroom setting.
“I’ve personally never seen the level of mental health problems I’m dealing with right now related directly to school closures,” said Greenhouse. “I’ve never before had children in my office say, ‘Please let them figure out how to open school again. I want to go back to school.’ I heard that four times this morning.”
“While the AAP is rightly indicating it would be in the best interest socially and mentally for students to be in school, we must think of everyone’s health and well-being in the building,” Kelly added.
PSTA Executive Director Kathy Maness added teachers she speaks with are worried about teaching in-person too soon.
“We already have a teacher shortage crisis,” said Maness. “It’s not just a shortage anymore. It’s a crisis. I know some teachers feel uncomfortable, especially some of our older teachers and those that have health problems. Teachers need to speak to their district to see if there is a virtual option of them.”
“We know there will be staff that will be unable to return because of medical concerns for themselves or those they care for,” said Kelly. “That will put an increased strain on our districts. We believe teachers should have the opportunity to provide distance learning instruction to those students if they deem it necessary.”
Part of the AccelerateED guidelines stipulates school districts should survey the teachers to gauge how they feel about teaching in-person.
PSTA leaders emphasized that the current rate of COVID-19 spread in the state is a significant concern when it comes to reopening safely. South Carolina currently ranks the top five nationally for coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days, according to the Johns Hopkins University map.