I-TEAM: SC task force looking for ways to re-open school in fall

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eflon / Flickr / CC BY 2.0(KKTV)
Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 6:08 PM EDT
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Thursday, June 11, 2020

News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

COLUMBIA, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- South Carolina's special task force laying out recommendations Thursday for how to re-open school in the fall.

Virtual meetings -- they're virtually a way of life for so many of us right now, including educators.

"Progress is often born out of adversity," Dr. Latoya Dixon, director of York School District one's elementary and gifted education programs, said.

Those educators are seeking a path forward to re-open South Carolina schools.

"Whether it's drills, moving classes, just going to the restroom and feeding students All of these things are going to take longer than they used to," Alan Walters of Georgetown County School District said.

Which is why the group says the school day might have to be extended.

Other suggestions included schools marking hallways -- like a lot of grocery stores have done -- to control foot traffic. Desks, when possible, need to be 6 feet apart -- which admittedly will be difficult for older buildings with smaller classrooms.

Some suggested doing away with -- but at least cutting down -- standardized testing.

They also discussed a plan for transportation.

They think districts should only allow 50 percent capacity for each bus. The example they used is a 77 passenger school bus that ideally now needs to have just 36 students on board.

The task force is calling for all bus drivers to wear masks. They actually wanted to require students to wear them on the bus too, but ultimately decided there would be no way to enforce that.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman said for the first time ever, she's asking parents to drive or find a ride for their kids to school even though before COVID-19, she believed the bus was always best.

As for nurses, the task force wants to make sure each school has one. Sounds simple enough, but preliminary data from an incomplete study shows at least 166 schools don't have one yet.

The counselor to student ratio also isn't where it needs to be even though it's a state regulation.

"And we're off by 500 kids? That's not -- that's not something that's sustainable, and we have pieced it together because of the great work of educators, but when the crisis hit, all the tape tore," Patrick Kelly of Richland School District Two said.

Exposing, the group says, more than a decade of problems brought on by budget cuts.

"Inequities still persist in our state," Dixon said.

COVID further exposed "the haves" and "the have nots" which could have only exacerbated stress related to the virus. State Superintendent Molly Spearman also brought up the stress students face after the death of George Floyd and the social movement happening now.

"In some ways, it's good that they've not been in school during this time, but in other ways, it's very sad because we have not been able to talk with them, and support them, and give them the dialogue that they need to show them that we care," Spearman said.

She went on to say five extra discretionary days the task force wants to add would be helpful in addressing this on top of addressing the stresses of COVID.

And then there's COVID bullying where kids could pick on each other about everything from possible exposure to wearing a mask to school.

The task force is now tasking districts to come up with a survey to see how many families feel comfortable sending their kids to school. Even if distance learning isn't required, it's going to have to be an option. And what if schools have to close because of hot spots? That's a possibility, too.

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