S.C. task force gets closer to plans for safely reopening schools

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Friday, May 15, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -- South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman spent an afternoon hearing recommendations from the Accelerate ED task force on the best and safest way for students to get back to the classroom both this summer and in the fall.

Spearman stressed that nothing is set in stone yet, with the task force aiming to give final recommendations to the districts by the end of next week. However, the committees on the task force did outline what their final recommendations might look like, from the number of students that will be allowed on a school bus to whether temperature checks are going to be required.

“Can it ever be 100 percent safe? No,” Spearman said. “That’s not true on a common day. You might pick up some type of virus, a cold, or the flu, but we know this is extraordinarily dangerous. We can never do 100 percent, but we want to do as close to that as possible.”

To reach this goal, the task force highlighted the need for nurses at every school moving forward, PPE for all the teachers and staff, and cleaning supplies. Temperature checks weren’t recommended by DHEC, but the task force is still considering it.

“We know what the parameters that DHEC has given us. There is nothing to say that we don’t go above that, such as taking temperatures and protective equipment. We have ordered the protective equipment,” Spearman said.

For buses, they’re considering no more than 40 students for a 77-person bus will be allowed.

“That’s basically one student per seat, but you could have more than that if you have siblings or students residing in the same household,” Scott Turner, Accelerate ED Operations Committee Chair, said.

For social distancing, the task force said they want to get students as close to six feet apart in classrooms as possible. They’re also considering having students eat lunch in the classroom, as well as limiting the use of the playground, instead opting for a walking loop.

“We’ve really got to project and work to make sure our parents have the confidence to send the students back to us and that our staff will be safe and the children will safe so I think you guys have some really good suggestions,” Spearman said.

Catching students up from the time lost this year continues to be a focus of the task force. One consideration is in-person summer programs for reading and math for K through third-graders continues to be a focus. The program would be four half days a week.

Virtual learning would be a backup plan if it isn’t safe to return to school. Tutoring services for middle and high schoolers during the summer, as well as six additional school days at the beginning of next year, were other measures discussed.

There is also a priority for providing mental health services and broadband internet to all students.

“We are at a place now where school might look different, but we need to be adaptable,” Spearman said.

Meeting Thursday, the task force also got a big update on how parents are feeling from a focus group and survey that the Department of Education conducted. The biggest concerns parents have are that their children have fallen behind this spring as well as the ability for kids to practice social distancing at school. The big picture from the survey is that parents want to get back to in-person learning and a normal routine if it’s safe.

Accelerate ED is waiting to hear from Accelerate SC on how much funding will be allocated to these expanded education programs and needs for this summer and fall.

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