S.C. Superintendent says schools need to offer in-person option, warns against winter sports

Updated: Dec. 30, 2020 at 9:45 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - As many South Carolina school districts plan to return only online next week, State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman is urging them to reconsider and reopen in person.

Spearman, who leads the South Carolina Department of Education, said in an interview before Christmas that families need to be given a choice.

“Students need to be back five days a week, but I do believe families need a choice,” she said. “All school districts, I say this every day to them, ‘You need to be offering two options. You need to be offering an in-face option, five days preferably, and you need to offer a virtual option.’”

Charleston and Beaufort County School Districts plan to resume in-person classes on Monday, the first day back after winter break. Dorchester District Four is set to reopen in its hybrid mode while six others plan to temporarily come back fully virtual: Berkeley, Colleton, Dorchester District Two, Georgetown, Orangeburg, and Williamsburg County School District.

Earlier this month, Gov. Henry McMaster said he was not happy with the idea of schools coming back to just a virtual platform. He said more than $400 million in CARES Act funding has been given to schools to help them reopen. That number includes $84 million announced earlier this month.

“We know that the children need to be in class,” he said, and Spearman agreed.

“If there’s things folks need, you’ve heard the governor say, ‘Let us know.’ Set up those close environments. Get students back,” she said.

Spearman then warned districts about the possible spread of COVID-19 during winter sports, calling their start one of her “great concerns.”

“Some of these in-house athletic programs are really causing a lot of concern, so I think you’re probably going to see more districts having to close those programs down,” Spearman said. “While I love athletics, my first responsibility is the school day, and if things outside the school day are causing us not to be able to offer instruction then I think districts need to take a very close look at that.”

Since mid-November, nearly a third of the Charleston County School District’s 60 basketball and wrestling teams have had to quarantine, so district leaders have now canceled all sports games and competitions until Jan. 10.

Meanwhile, Colleton County Schools’ announced that games for high school teams will resume on Jan. 5.

“I’m saying strongly and I’ve heard this from many, many folks, many of the quarantines they’re having to administer and much of the spread, what little spread there’s been, it’s more outside the school day during those after school activities,” Spearman said. “That’s very concerning.”

Spearman said she doesn’t have the authority to stop sports teams from playing but is asking districts to look at it more closely.

For a full breakdown of what mode districts are reopening in and when they look to transition to others, click here.

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