Gov. McMaster: S.C. public schools to remain closed for remainder of school year

Updated: Apr. 22, 2020 at 4:07 PM EDT
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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster said South Carolina students will not return to the classroom this school year.

“The decision we have made after much consultation with a comprehensive group of people, including parents and teachers, administrators, health experts and otherwise, we decided not be reopen schools for the rest of the school year,” McMaster said.

He made the announcement Wednesday morning with Education Superintendent Molly Spearman from the state’s Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia.

McMaster said he will issue an executive order next week detailing the plan to keep schools closed. The order will provide flexibility to allow districts to provide help for special needs students.

“Also, we will encourage the school districts and the schools and the principals and the teachers and the parents and all involved to find ways to have graduation ceremonies,” McMaster said. “We’ve heard of a lot of imaginative innovative plans.”

Both McMaster and Spearman thanked parents for the efforts to help their children with distance learning.

McMaster called the effort to keep students learning “remarkable.”

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” he said. “We know it’s been difficult, we know, particularly with the hundreds of thousands of people out of work and the children all at home at times when it was not expected, that this has been a hardship and a challenge for many, many people in our state."

He joked that some parents are more educated than when they started “because they’ve had to go back and teach the children things they’d forgotten over the year."

Spearman acknowledged distance learning has been a challenge for some districts and families.

“I think the digital divide in South Carolina has become very apparent,” she said.

While some districts have been able to use technology to communicate through live virtual meetings online, some districts have “relied totally on pencil and paper,” she said.

“There are still areas that families do not have access to the internet so that makes it more difficult,” she said. She said the state is working with providers to try to provide service but said that’s not something educators can do alone.

She also said that while some students can thrive in a virtual environment, others really need a one-on-one relationship.

“And so for those students we need to get them back together with one on one with a teacher as soon as possible,” she said.

She said the Department of Education plans to continue to offer hotspot Wi-Fi for families who do not have internet access.

“And we have been able to meet the need as with the requests that we’ve gotten, we have sent those buses with Wi Fi to those areas, and can do more if there is a need that a district would let us know if my last day of school,” Spearman said.

She also said school leaders hope they can reopen schools in August.

“We would love to. Absolutely. We hope that we’ll be prepared and ready to go, but you know that the answer to that question will have to be made as we get a little closer and see how healthy everybody is and how our system is going, but absolutely, we’re going to be working toward that," she said.

But she pointed out that school buses carry 78 students who sit three to a seat and a typical classroom normally places about 24 kids in an 800-sq. ft. classroom, which means the only way to maintain social distancing would require having people “standing in the corners.”

“So we’re going to have to really look at this and maybe make some significant changes on how we have been the regular school day,” she said. “I’m not prepared to say what those would be at this point but that’s what I need a group to come together who really work in the trenches, to help us come up with some ideas.”

Earlier this week, Spearman said she had recently surveyed all of the district superintentendents in the state about the possibility of reopening schools.

“I’ll tell you that overwhelmingly they said they don’t think it’s in our best interest to go back to school,” she said.

Spearman said she has heard from many students asking about whether they will advance to the next grade.

“Yes, you’re gonna make your grade, unless there’s just an extraordinary circumstance where you are really far behind and your parents should already have been talking with your teacher about that,” she said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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