COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster called on all public school districts in the state to give parents the option to send students to school five days a week or provide a virtual education option.
McMaster made the announcement at an 11 a.m. news conference from the Statehouse.
“We must give parents the choice,” he said. “The only thing that we are asking these districts to do today is to give the parents, the choice. The parents are looking to our schools, the parents pay taxes for the schools the constitution provides for schools. We must see that the children have these schools available.”
If parents want to send their child back to school, they should be able to do so, “and to do so with confidence,” he said. McMaster also said he asked South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman not to approve any district plan that doesn’t give parents the choice to send their children to school for face-to-face instruction.
He also said school districts should consider selecting the date of Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day, as a reopening date.
“This will allow plenty of time for the school districts to complete their plans,” he said. “We cannot restrict learning by forcing students to participate in remote learning. When many of our students in rural parts of the state have no access to internet at home to begin with. As you know, we are working diligently on a broadband plan to extend that around the state, but it’s not done, yet.”
He said there are more than 10,000 students who the state’s education department has not heard from since the pandemic began.
“Children have dropped off the radar, because they were not physically coming to school each day,” he said. “Children have also lost valuable learning progress, due to schools being closed.”
He said he wants our educational momentum to continue and to accelerate.
“And that means we have to get the children back in the schools,” he said.
McMaster said of state leaders that they are “all on the same team.”
“And we all have the same goal, and that is to protect and educate our children, we must reopen our economy,” McMaster said. “People must go to work, schools must have in class face to face teaching so these children do not fall behind. Ladies and gentlemen, if they fall behind, just in this one period, they may never catch up. And we may have a generation lost to their educational opportunities.”
South Carolina Senate President Harvey Peeler urged “fellow freedom lovers” to wear masks to protect others from the spread of COVID-19.
“If I can wear one of these uncomfortable aggravations, I know you can, too,” he said. “You may ask me, ‘Why did you start wearing one of these masks, Harvey?' Let me tell you why. I asked doctors, after doctors, after doctors around the state, who had no political agenda, their opinion on wearing masks face covering, and the doctors, they told me that if you’re in a confined space or someone’s in your space, you need to wear coverings over your nose and mouth. So I’m asking you to do that.”
“When people ask me whether in-person schooling is safe during the coronavirus, I asked the same question each time, that if Will, my only son, were school age, would I let him go back this fall, given the numbers that I saw yesterday?” House Speaker Jay Lucas said. “And the answer is, I will, certainly.”
“There will be children in school in August. Many of them will be face-to-face,” Spearman said. “As I’m learning, it’s about half and half. Some parents really want to keep their children at home and choose a virtual experience. Others will want them to face-to-face experience, and we’re going to make sure that’s offered for them.”
The state’s Department of Education has also ordered almost 500,000 masks for teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers. Each worker will get five to use and then wash.
“I made a statement last week that I stand by. If I were the ruler, I would ask everybody require face mask but certainly that’s not my decision,” Spearman said. “It is our expectation, however, that when a child gets on the school bus in the morning, that they have on a mask.”
Spearman also said that every child has a free virtual option statewide and many districts are offering their own. She does expect all districts to offer in-person classes for the children of parents who them back in school.
But last week, education advocacy group SC For Ed said schools should remain virtual in the fall, raising their concerns about a push from the American Academy of Pediatrics to reopen schools “problematic at best.”
A statement released from SC for Ed board members Dottie Adams, Lisa Ellis, Keely Hitchings, Saani Perri and Nicole Walker said to call for a return to school “while a pandemic is still raging and South Carolina is seeing one of the world’s fastest increases in viral infections is short-sighted.”
Their statement also said such recommendations fail to consider the logistics that go into running schools in a safe manner and the lack of funding South Carolina schools have been experiencing for more than a decade.
“Lack of funding since 2008 has made it impossible to maintain safe buildings, modern HVAC systems, and safe student-teacher ratios required in even the AAP plans, and we find it disturbing that physician groups did not use their collective voice until now regarding the well-documented child health concerns,” the statement read.
The group called for state schools to remain “virtual” to protect students, families, faculty and staff.