McMaster officially shutters South Carolina schools for rest of school year

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina has officially taken its public schools virtual for the remainder of the school year, extending a distance-learning environment implemented more than a month ago as the new coronavirus outbreak emerged in the state.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman announced Wednesday that K-12 schools in South Carolina will remain closed for the rest of the year.

McMaster closed schools in late March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

>> Have questions about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the Carolinas? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak -- CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Although schools will not reopen, virtual e-learning will continue for the rest of the school year. McMaster said there will be flexibility statewide for those who need additional help with instruction.

According to Spearman, the governor made the right decision to keep schools closed. She said buildings won’t open, but instruction will continue for the rest of the school year. She also thanked parents for supporting schools during this time.

She said that while some students are thriving with e-learning, some families struggle with having access to the internet. The state plans to continue sending school bus WiFi hotspots around neighborhoods to help alleviate those issues.

She also urged any parents who are struggling to contact their child’s school for guidance.

Leaders have received lots of comments from seniors about graduation. McMaster said he encourages all school districts to find innovative ways to have graduation ceremonies.

Virtual graduations for seniors are being planned by some districts across the state. Spearman said seniors deserve a ceremony and should have it, in the best way possible.

“Right now, everything is on the table for us, whether it’s a virtual setting, whether it’s a social distancing inside of an open air stadium, whether it’s a delayed graduation where we try to do a more traditional formal ceremony near August,” said Joe Burke with the Fort Mill School District.

Districts have been given the flexibility for how they will handle the last few weeks of school.

Spearman said the “Cares Act” funds can be used for technology and could help students catch up for next year. It can even be used for cleaning classrooms, which she said will be a very big expense next year.

“I feel like the teachers will find a way to catch them up," said parent Jessica Wheeler. "I know at our school, our kids are doing a lot of work. I don’t feel like they’re missing out on anything.”

Spearman said she hopes there are no layoffs of teachers. They have been paid during this time. She acknowledged the revenue will be down but put it on the general assembly to address the issue.

>> We’ll bring you LIVE updates on Channel 9 Eyewitness News. Get extended coverage on the free WSOC Now app on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV.

South Carolina now joins a growing list of other states that have gone ahead and canceled school for the rest of the year. There are now at least 29 states that have made the call.

But what about next year?

One leading U.S. model is predicting a surge in cases in August that could also draw next school year into question.

The projections are from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a model the White House has relied on. It's increased its projected death toll by August to 66,000 -- up 10%.

And it doesn't get much better after that, according to the CDC. Its director is warning that a second wave this fall and winter could be worse than the one hitting us right now.

That's because it would hit right at the same time as flu season.

And the CDC’s director isn't alone in his concerns.

“I think it's certainly a possibility, and the whole task force set of doctors is concerned about the second wave,” said commissioner of the USDA, Dr. Stephen Hahn.

South Carolina’s state superintendent did bring up next year, mentioning funds from the CARES Act can be used to help students catch up for next year.

What’s next for North Carolina schools?

North Carolina still has a couple of weeks until students are supposed to head back, but plans need to be made about grading, graduation, and a lot more.

When Gov. Roy Cooper originally pushed the closure of schools to May 15, he said he wasn't ready to give up on this school year yet.

At his briefing on Tuesday, Cooper said the state's public health team is looking at what is needed to make sure children are safe at school. They're talking with superintendents, the state board of education and department of instruction.

Cooper said an announcement on schools would come soon, probably this week.

Both the state board of education and the COVID-19 state education committee are set to meet on Thursday.

The board is set to talk about grading, teacher evaluations and athletic eligibility in the wake of COVID-19. The other group has been drafting legislation to waive tests along with other measures.

They've also been talking about potential changes to the school calendar.

Channel 9 education reporter Elsa Gillis will be dialed in to those meetings and updating you as soon as we hear from the governor.