COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Gov. Henry McMaster said virtual learning is “not as good” as in-person learning as he pushed for schools to reopen classrooms.
McMaster spoke from the State House alongside several politicians.
The governor says parents should have the choice to send their children to school five days a week, or keep their children home and opt for virtual learning.
“This is the only thing we are asking these districts to do today, to give the parents a choice,” said McMaster. “They cannot months and months on end without having face to face with a teacher. There is nothing more important in a child’s life, other than their relationship with their parents; then there is with their teacher.”
He wants every public school district in the state to offer these options when they present their plans for reopening.
“The children of South Carolina are the future of our state,” McMaster said. “We must educate all of them.”
While he said virtual learning is not as good as learning in a classroom, the governor said districts should also provide that option for parents who wish to keep their children home.
McMaster pointed to children who have not been accounted for since schools closed in March, saying schools need to be open to protect the children who may have been victims of abuse and neglect.
He also said if schools don’t reopen to in-person learning, many children will fall behind in their studies.
“Parents need to have a choice,” emphasized McMaster. “They need to say to their districts whether they want their children to go in class five days a week, or whether they want to be virtual. It must be their choice.”
McMaster also said there is not adequate internet service across the state to support virtual learning for every student.
The governor said he’s asked State Superintendent Molly Spearman to reject any district’s reopening plan that does not allow for five days of in-person learning along with virtual learning.
She was notably absent from the governor’s news conference Wednesday.
Spearman has just issued the following statement, saying she will listen to school leaders and public health experts to make her decisions:
“Every South Carolina parent must be afforded the option to choose virtual learning or a face to face model for their child this school year. The pandemic has shown the vital importance of our public education system and the broad range of services beyond teaching it provides for our students every day. Our goal must be a return to five day a week in person instruction as safely and as soon as possible.
“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. 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. I remain committed to supporting them in this endeavor and will only approve those plans that offer high quality options and keep safety as their top priority.”
Only the Department of ED has the authority to accept or reject school district reopening plans. They must be submitted by this Friday. But, some districts asked for an extension to receive school board approval first.
And, no state law in South Carolina says schools must educate students in person. However, the continuing resolution passed in May by the legislature says the five additional school days added to the 2020-2021 academic year had to feature in-person instruction.
The governor said he knows there is no way to “eliminate all risk” associated with COVID-19 spread within schools.
However, he says there are ways to reopen schools safely and mitigate the risk.
Current recommendations laid out by Accelerate Ed states no district should reopen for face to face learning if located in a county with a high rate of disease activity. Only one county in the state would currently qualify for a modified level of in-person instruction.
McMaster mentioned that those are just guidelines. He wants his recommendation for a five day school week face to face learning option to be implemented in school district proposals for reopening.
“The guidelines from the CDC and DHEC are guidelines, and that’s what these measurements were based on,” added McMaster.
McMaster also said the economy must open back up and “people must go to work,” meaning schools must also be open.
The governor also suggested schools wait to open until Sept. 8. He said that will give districts time to get everything in order, including bus plans and other issues.
He said he would not issue an executive order related to schools reopening. The legislature will be back in September. McMaster said he’s confident that if things have not gone satisfactory according to the legislature, that they will make accommodations to make sure something is done.
A few districts have already released plans to reopen their schools. And McMaster named a few districts that have released plans in line with his wishes.
However, many districts have released drafts of plans that do not include in-person learning until COVID-19 cases drop in the state.
The lawmakers who joined McMaster for Wednesday’s news conference urged everyone in the state to wear a mask to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
This story will be updated.
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