Thousands of students unaccounted for as AccelerateED Task Force meets for the second time

2ND AccelerateED meeting
2ND AccelerateED meeting(WIS)
Updated: May. 6, 2020 at 7:13 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Wednesday, May 6 the AccelerateED Task Force will meet for the second time in a livestreamed teleconference.

This is the team created by State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman charged with looking into the hurdles South Carolina public schools may face because of COVID-19, and offering recommendations on how to best restart in the fall.

AccelerateED also breaks down into three subcommittees, which meet separately. This includes a subcommittee on Building and Student Services, Instruction and Operations.

Each of these subcommittees have met at least once since the last full AccelerateED meeting on April 30. Subcommittee members are expected to provide updates to the full task force during Wednesday’s meeting.

President of the South Carolina Education Association and longtime high school science teacher, Sherry East, is a member of the AccelerateED Task Force. She says one topic she expects to come up during the group’s second meeting is the issue of fair access to WiFi.

“If you’re grading right now, you’re really grading some things that aren’t fair to all students. Some districts are doing paper packets and some with the Wi-Fi situation and our state does not have WiFi. So, it’s really brought to light a lot of the problems around equity that we’ve been screaming about for years and now that it’s the WiFi right in your face – you know, not every student has a device. Even if a district buys the device or does what we call one-to-one, every area of the state does not have the WiFi capability,” said East.

There are school buses helping to provide WiFi in more rural areas of the state, but Sherry says this is only during certain hours of the day, making it difficult for parents who work during the day and may need to help their students with school work at night once the WiFi is no longer available.

Spearman announced in early April that all K-12 students will receive one letter grade for the last semester of school, rather than the two letter grades they would have gotten if schools were operating normally.

A recent survey of teachers shows thousands of students are not participating in e-learning with schools closed due to COVID-19.

That’s according to a new report from Greenville News, which says Superintendent Spearman is estimating between 30,000-40,000 South Carolina students have been unaccounted for since schools closed in response to the pandemic in mid-March.

East tells WIS-TV, “Probably, the number one stressor on teachers right now is tracking down the missing students. Teachers are documenting like crazy. We’ve been asked to document, you know, ‘I’ve sent out the lesson. It’s available. I’m available, but the student hasn’t checked in.’ And what’s fair? How do we promote those folks? How do we give them credits? How do we make a system work during this time for those students?”

She’s asking that parents reach out to school officials and let them know about any issues they’re having with e-learning.

East also says, so far, discussions surrounding summer school suggest school leaders think June may be too soon, and are possibly considering a program closer to when school starts again in the fall.

Another big question as school leaders look ahead to districts possibly reopening in the fall is how to social distance with classroom sizes sometimes larger than 30 students, or how to social distance on school buses.

The AccelerateED video conference begins at 9 a.m. You can watch that livestream by clicking here.

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