SC educators try to make school plans as COVID-19 cases rise

South Carolina task force unveils recommendations for upcoming school year

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Schools across South Carolina found out just how dramatically different it could be when classes start again in August.

South Carolina educators are working to figure out how schools can prepare to have students return in about two months amid the COVID-19 pandemic even as nearly all indicators about the disease’s spread in South Carolina are going up.

For weeks now, a group of educators on the AcceleratED task force have been working on plans. On Thursday, the group unveiled a lengthy list of health and safety recommendations for the new school year.

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It appears state school leaders are not mandating anything, but offering up recommendations based on guidance from the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to approach COVID-19.

It's clear that school won't look the same at all, and it may be different from district to district and county to county.

The recommendations cover everything from the classrooms, gym, the cafeteria and school buses.

Here are a few of the highlights from the task force:

On campus

  • A nurse in every school
  • Develop cleaning standards
  • Signs posted
  • Turn off water fountains
  • One-way traffic in hallways using markings on the floor for social distancing
  • Students remain in one classroom and only teachers move to limit interaction

In class

  • Spacing desks as close to 6 feet apart as possible
  • Personal Protection Equipment for all teachers
  • Training on social distancing and sanitation
  • Waving state testing requirements
  • Adjusting grading methods

School buses

  • Limited to 50% capacity -- roughly 36 kids on a 77-seat school bus
  • Double routes
  • Driver must wear a mask
  • Stagger pick up/ drop off spots on campus

The concern about busing and transportation is one of the biggest issues schools are facing, which led State Superintendent Molly Spearman to plead with parents for help.

“I don’t think I’ve ever asked this, but this is a time that we would appreciate parents considering that if at all possible that they would drive their students to school. That would help us tremendously,” she said.

Some local districts, such as Lancaster County are already surveying parents to see how many are willing to send their kids back to school. Some polls show as much as 30% of parents may opt to continue distance learning at home.

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That’s one reason another major recommendation is for schools to plan for extended periods of distance learning, if cases of the virus continue to increase. One option was for built in “distance learning days” where kids would not come to school.

Educators will also push for CARES Act funding to be used to expand broadband service because about 100,000 students statewide don’t have internet access at home.

One task force member Patrick Kelly said with COVID-19 cases now on the rise, a lot of what schools choose to do, depends on everyone working together.

“If you care about the students of South Carolina, then you need to listen to public health authorities because your actions are gonna shape what our students can do in the fall,” she said.

There are many more details and specifics in the recommendations unveiled Thursday that are not part of this article. They should be available to read on the state board of education website by Monday.

There will be a one-week period for public comment then final approval by next Friday.

Local districts will then be able to choose how to implement recommendations for their specific schools.

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