AccelerateED adds changes, finalizes fall school recommendations

AccelerateED adds changes, finalizes fall school recommendations
The South Carolina AccelerateED task force meets Friday morning, and new information is expected on how students across the state will return to class this fall. (Source: Live 5/Live 5/File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) School districts may use their power to postpone the start of school this fall. This recommendation comes during the AccelerateED task force meeting Friday morning where they finalized recommendations.

The plan includes developing a clear criteria for responses to COVID-19, addressing funding concerns with added precautions and the role each district has in preparing for the year ahead.

The final report maintains the three scheduling models dependent on COVID-19 levels:

  • Traditional: In-person learning with building and protocol changes for safety
  • Hybrid: Amended school days with less in-person interaction
  • Full-Distance Learning: Districts implement their remote learning contingency plans should schools have to close

“So the recommendation to districts would be to push back the 180 day start to incorporate the leap days in a way that does not help with the plans that our families may have based on our existing school calendars,” Patrick Kelly, instruction subcommittee chair said.

During Friday’s meeting, State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman and Patrick Kelly both noted the importance of relaying specific thresholds of COVID-19 cases from the state health department to districts in order to guide which schedule model to use and if the district needs to change during the year.

“These criteria are needed by districts quickly, so this action should be a top priority for a collaboration between [the South Carolina Department of Education] and [The Department of Health and Environmental Control],” Kelly said.

The largest number of changes to the task force’s report are from the learning subcommittee, which include additions to recommend grace periods for teacher qualifications, additional wavers for standardized testing, and a later official start date to accommodate five additional school days.

In addition, the subcommittee added a request that the general assembly increase per-pupil funding in a response to the increased price of new safety protocols in schools.

“With the undertaking of several new and necessary safety measures by districts, the general assembly will need to strongly consider the financial impact districts will be facing and include this increased funding to the base student cost,” Kelly said.

The task force also addressed the recent spike in COVID-19 cases across the state. Spearman said in addition to individual school contingency plans, she is working on a back up plan to help districts transition and operate effectively should there be another emergency shut down.

“We’re working on that back up plan to be better prepared,” Spearman said. “Will it be 100% in place when school starts? No. But we will be in a much better situation than when we were March 16.”

Spearman said while the final recommendations leave the power to individual districts to put in place what measures will work for their areas, changes must be made to procedures in every school in the state.

“Now, the next move is down to the district level where district officials, school board members, superintendents, principles have got to take this very seriously and do the best they can with implementing this for their community,” Spearman said.

Spearman said she is working with health officials to plan a meeting with school leaders from districts statewide to answer questions on public health in the next few weeks.

The task force’s extensive draft on reopening schools included dozens of new safety and cleaning procedures, but one big concern from schools is whether they’ll have enough money to implement all of the recommendations. In fact, the task force acknowledges in its proposal that facility improvements will likely cost more than many districts can afford.

Click here to read the full draft.

The 202-page draft includes installing HVAC filtering systems and hand sanitizer stations throughout buildings. It also recommends a full disinfecting fog or spraying of classrooms twice a day and wiping down surfaces before class changes.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.