Facing increasing criticism for his lack of decision-making as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have surged this summer in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster held a press conference Wednesday to address the approaching school year.
McMaster did not issue any mandates Wednesday. However, he asked that South Carolina school districts give parents an option to choose between in-person, five-day schooling or continue virtual learning for their children this fall — and he strongly encouraged in-person learning.
“There is nothing more important we can do than educate the children of South Carolina,” McMaster said, stressing that virtual learning isn’t stacking up to in-classroom education. “We must take every step at our disposal to get teachers and students back in the classroom.”
McMaster said he asked State Superintendent Molly Spearman to not approve school district plans unless they give parents the options to choose between 5-day in-person school or virtual learning for their children. Spearman did not attend Wednesday’s press conference.
McMaster said that the most vulnerable children suffer when in-person education is not offered. He said they’re worried about the children who don’t have access to Wi-Fi, the children who rely on schools for meals, and the children who are being abused at home. According to SCDSS, child abuse reports have been down since March, but experts agree that is only because teachers aren’t seeing children to report abuse, McMaster said.
“If these children do not get back to school face-to-face with their teachers, they are going to fall behind and some of them will never catch up — that is a certainty,” McMaster said.
Every district must submit plans by Friday. McMaster recommended districts push back their start dates until after Labor Day.
McMaster did not mention any logistics of the options he encouraged — particularly about teachers. How will they navigate between virtual and in-person learning? Will teachers get more sick days if they have to quarantine for 14 days? Do districts have enough substitute teachers to cover a likely increase of teachers taking sick leave? These questions will have to be answered in individual school district plans.
“The teachers will be back in school every day, there isn’t a question about that,” McMaster said.
SCDHEC said they will offer guidance for students and teachers who test positive for COVID-19.
Instead of speaking at McMaster’s press conference, Spearman issued the following statement at the end of Wednesday’s press conference.
“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.” –Molly Spearman.
SC For ED issued the following statement on Twitter Wednesday:
McMaster also didn’t announce any plans at his press conference to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in South Carolina.
S.C. public schools have been closed since March 16, when there were only 26 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
South Carolina has reported skyrocketing coronavirus cases since the third week of June, when it began seeing more than 1,000 cases per day — a big jump from May when it just saw an average of 189 cases per day.
South Carolina’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have also increased dramatically in the last three weeks. On June 22, 731 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in SC. On Tuesday, the state reported that 1,550 coronavirus patients were hospitalized and 203 of those patients were on ventilators.
South Carolina, the No. 3 hotspot in the world for new COVID-19 cases, ranks 35th in the nation for COVID-19 tests per capita and 48th in the U.S. for percent of positive tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
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