COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - State Superintendent Molly Spearman approved 25 school districts’ reopening plans Thursday, which adds to the list of six approved Monday. Four districts that plan to start the year virtually were granted approval contingent on them offering an in-person option by September 14.
Thursday afternoon, some teachers in Richland One held a “Motor March” to encourage their district to stick firmly to its virtual plan. These teachers are hopeful the State Department of Education will approve Richland One’s three-phase reopening approach, but they’re worried they could be forced back inside the classroom before they believe it’s safe.
“Nobody is on the same page except for the school districts that are taking a stand and saying ‘No, we’re going to keep it closed,’ and I think the State Department really needs to hear from teachers and parents the reality of all this,” said Edward E. Taylor first-grade teacher Lauren Gasser.
The South Carolina Department of Education says districts’ plans won’t be approved without an in-person option, even though AccelerateED and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recommended virtual learning while case numbers are high.
“I think at this point, it’s a political thing,” Gasser explained. “I feel like people are dangling money over each other’s heads and trying to make them conform to what they’re doing. I really think they should look at their data and try to go back and rethink that. They haven’t been in our shoes, and they don’t have boots on the ground.”
Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon says he has still not received any feedback from the Department of Education, but he believes his district’s plans meet all requirements. “Students Pre-K-12 are going to have to come to school get their device, get some other information so that initial contact is there. We built in at least weekly other contact activities and possibilities. So, we feel like we’re covering those basics,” said Dr. Witherspoon.
Richland One parents have already had to submit their intentions for their children this school year, and an in-person option to start the school year was not on that list. Richland Two, which has also not received approval from the Department of Education, also did not include an in-person option, and parents must submit that survey by Friday, July 31.
WIS asked the Department of Education if all districts were going to be required to offer in-person learning by September 14, even if disease spread is still high. A spokesperson responded by email stating, “Plans are being reviewed and approval considered on a case by case basis, so we can not say a conditional approval that may apply to one plan or a few plans will apply to all.”