CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Education leaders from across South Carolina met for the third time Thursday afternoon to talk about how best to proceed with summer learning activities and how schools and districts can best restart in the fall.
AccelerateED is a task force created by Superintendent Molly Spearman comprised of educators and administrators representing all aspects of the K-12 public education system that is charged with studying barriers to school operations and student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spearman has asked the AccelerateED Task Force to come up with recommendations in terms of education over the summer and for when the new school year starts in August.
“I know some of your tasks are harder than others because we’re looking into a crystal ball,” Spearman said to the task force.
But Spearman also wanted to address some rumors.
“I would like to say there were some rumors flying around that we had already made decisions on how things were going to operate – that is not true,” Spearman said. “There are options but we’re waiting to hear from you.”
“Our goal is twofold,” Spearman explained. “Our goal is to run an operation that is safe and looking at the help of our students and our staff to protect them as much as possible. And then our second goal is to get back to school as normal as possible, as soon as possible.”
AccelerateED is made up of three subcommittees:
- Building and Student Services
Each subcommittee has been meeting since the first meeting of the full task force on April 30.
Building and Student Services
Alan Walters, a part of the Building and Student Services Subcommittee, said now is the time to get building administrators, staff, parents and students involved in the conversation.
Walters said his committee agreed there needs to be a nurse in every school.
“PPE is a top priority,” Walters said. “It needs to be ordered now and delivered to schools.”
“I did ask for protective equipment, like masks, required to protect all of our teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians and bus drivers,” Spearman said.
Spearman said they are looking at purchasing a cloth mask for each day of the week for those workers which amounts to about $160,000.
Spearman said she requested $14 million for cleaning equipment and training, on how to use that equipment, for each of the districts.
After looking at the latest Department of Health and Environmental Control’s guidance, Walters said his subcommittee discussed a lot about what a classroom will look like and movement around the schools.
Walters said a takeaway from a lot of people in the community, from the DHEC guidelines, were that they were just going to turn the desks in one direction.
“That’s certainly not the case,” Walters said. “It’s much more complex than that and we’re looking at a number of solutions.”
Walters stressed that, as they look through DHEC’s guidelines, this is a very fluid situation.
“We have to keep contingencies in mind in case there are spikes or another outbreak,” Walters said. “What we come up with now doesn’t mean we won’t have to revert back to more restrictive protocols. We have to have a ‘Plan B’ ready.”
Spearman said a lot of questions she’s getting are about summer camps because a lot of those camps use school facilities. She asked the Building and Student Services Subcommittee to discuss whether school facilities should be opened for those.
Walters said they would definitely discuss but they might need clarification legally, from the governor’s order, since it’s not a school-sponsored function.
“Obviously everything that is a recommendation in our instructional set for Summer 2020 is grounded in safety first,” Patrick Kelly, with the Instruction Subcommittee, said.
His subcommittee is recommending school districts continue their traditional summer programming especially third grade reading camps and summer school for middle and high schools. But, they are highly against summer learning being digital.
“If that means we have to change dates of reading camps to push it back further in the summer – the closer we can get to something that is in-person, the better,” Kelly said. “But that’s driven by what the health situation is at the moment.”
They are recommending districts get creative when it comes to the additional funding they’ll be getting.
“We have some recommendations about districts potentially looking to use pre-service teachers at our institutes of higher education as tutors,” Kelly said.
The subcommittee agreed the districts would need to strategically identify students that have experienced learning loss as a result of school closure.
“It’s likely the students who have been most disengaged are the ones that have had the most learning loss,” Kelly said.
The subcommittee suggests districts target specific groups of students including:
- Students moving into sixth and ninth grades
- English Language Learners
- Students who are migrant
- Students that are homeless
- Students currently on an IEP or in process of evaluation for services under IDEA
Kelly said the state and districts need to use the summer months to address the digital divide – the number of students and teachers without devices or internet access.
According to reports from districts across South Carolina, there are approximately 150,000 households that have students without internet access. Spearman said the sense of the AccelerateSC team was moving toward recommending a large amount of the $1.9 billion, in state funding, be spent to expand broadband capabilities across South Carolina.
Spearman said districts estimate they will need approximately 160,000 additional devices in order to have students well-equipped for distance learning. Spearman said they are looking at a technology reimbursement from the state for that technology which would be about $64 million. But, she said, that number is changing as they get more information from the school districts.
Kelly said they are recommending the state department to explore seeking testing waivers from the federal government – that would be an opportunity to gain additional instructional time back. We have a recommendation for the expansion of VirtualSC offerings for elementary and middle grade levels.
“Districts should develop learning recovery plans around additional time Superintendent Spearman has been talking about,” Kelly said. “Whether that looks like additional days on the front end, extended school days, Saturday school... we threw out some possible recommendations so districts can be reflective of their local circumstance and responsive to their needs as much as possible.”
As of right now, the Operations Subcommittee has been focusing primarily on the summer because the Superintendent has given them a little more time to work out kinks for when students go back in the fall.
“I just want to relay the urgency of getting information and guidance out to districts,” Scott Turner, who’s a part of the Operations Subcommittee, said. “They’re kind of in a holding pattern in terms of what they’re going to offer this summer.”
Positions that would be needed in a summer program would include teachers, teaching assistants, cleaning staff, bus drivers, food service, nurses, administrators and counselors.
The Operations Subcommittee is also recommending there be a day of professional development and training on how to follow social distancing and health protocols before they bring students back into the building.
The subcommittee got reports from the Health Department saying anywhere from 26-40 students could be on a 77-passenger bus this summer. That would essentially be one student per seat. The report states there could be more if there are siblings on the bus or students residing in the same household.
The Department of Education has ordered 180 electrostatic cleaning devices that would be used to quickly disinfect an entire bus in a matter of minutes. But Turner said those are on back order because everyone is trying to get the same equipment.
In the meantime, districts would have to disinfect the high-touch areas on the buses as they are used this summer.
“As bus transportation supervisors create routes, every student should have an assigned seat,” Turner said. “The buses should also be loaded from back to front to prevent passing up and down the aisles.”
When it comes to people entering the building for summer camps, Turner said there should be designated entrances and exits. He said there should also be signage in buildings for one-way flow like we’re seeing in supermarkets.
Turner he said, this summer, they are trying to keep the class sizes 12-18 students per class. Turner said there should also be an aid in those classrooms so you can break the students up into smaller groups.
“In classrooms where you can’t socially distance, have some type of partition available in the classroom,” Turner said.
Turner said when it comes to students needing a break, it’s not a good idea to use playground equipment. Instead, they’re recommending students walking a loop or playing in a large field.
Turner stressed it is important to look forward to the fall.
“If we’re still under same situation we are now, districts must begin planning for what that could look like,” Turner said. “Districts have to begin planning for what that could look like.”
He says they’re already asking principals to look at modified schedules and not waste time to begin planning those scenarios within districts and schools.
“I think that it is most important to keep in mind all of this is very fluid,” Spearman said. “Our goal is to make sure that we spend the money appropriately – getting the biggest results that we possibly can and not duplicating requests,” Spearman said.
The department is looking at the extended summer learning program, which will include Reading and Math, at being four days a week at three and a half hours per day. Spearman said she is estimating about $2,500 per student and approximately 49,000 students will take part in the program. Spearman said the number of students is based on an estimation by each school district. That's $122.5 million. She subtracted the $6.8 million they already have appropriated for the statutory summer reading camp. So she requested $115.7 million.
Spearman said she also raised the amount in regards to the six additional instructional days proposed. She is now requesting $192 million which now includes charter schools, grades K-8.
Spearman gave an estimate to the AccelerateSC Resource Committee on how the S.C. Department of Education might spend the $21 million from the CARES Act.
The list includes:
- Purchase the expansion of a Learning Management Repository: $10 million
- Professional development for teachers for training: $7 million
- Transportation costs that districts have incurred: $1 million
“None of that is in stone, but those are some of the areas we thought would be wise for us to use some of our funding to support,” Spearman said.
South Carolina will be receiving $216,311,158 in ESSER funds from the CARES Act, of which 90%, $194,680,042, will flow through to school districts with amounts determined in proportion to the amount of Title I, Part A funds they received in Summer 2019 from funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This document shows how much CARES Act funding each S.C. district with receive.
The task force is waiting on approval from the state on funding. At that point, they’ll be able to finalize their recommendations. They’re hoping to have those by the end of next week.