COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Gov. Henry McMaster has announced that schools in South Carolina will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
The governor and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman held a press conference Wednesday at the S.C. Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia detailing the decision.
“The schools are the backbone of the community and, when they’re closed, all of us hurt,” Spearman said. “The children want to go to school. The parents want them to go to school. Teachers want to be there with their children and we want to see them growing and learning.”
The governor’s decision is one that the majority of superintendents across the state support. “We’re certainly pleased with the governors decision. We know that the safety and health of our students and staff is paramount," said Richland One Superintendent Craig Witherspoon. Witherspoon says his team is working to finish the school year strong, while also planning for the fall. He believes more assessment will be needed to evaluate students’ performance when school reopens. “There will need to be some acceleration efforts or remediation efforts to make up any lost ground.”
Kershaw County Superintendent Shane Robbins also expressed support. “It brings another set of fears and feelings of uncertainty, but it allows us to at least know what we need to do in terms of moving forward and not wonder if the other shoe is going to drop," Robbins explained. He’s asked all principals in Kershaw County to come up with a plan or schedule that will allow a minimum flow of traffic into school buildings, so they can accomplish some end of the year activities, like returning devices and possibly parent teacher conferences. He’s also encouraging parents and teachers think of the fall as normal, as he’s hopeful students will return to school then.“We’re going to come out of this stronger than before. It’s going to take more than a tornado or a pandemic to hold us down, and we just have to remain optimistic and stay positive," said Robbins.
Although schools will remain closed, Spearman noted that e-learning will continue for students. Schools will continue to instruct students using e-learning through their respective district’s final day of instruction.
Spearman said students will be graded “as normal but with a good old dose of common sense.” Students will not receive separate grades for the third and fourth quarters. Instead, students will receive a grade that is blended together in a semester grade similar to those received by students in higher education. That grade will be applied for students enrolled in a credit-bearing course.
Spearman added that she has heard from high school seniors regarding graduation.
“I’ve gotten some very articulate, heartwrenching begs and pleas to let us have graduation ceremony. The governor and I absolutely want that to happen,” Spearman said. “I can tell you your district leaders have sent us some very creative ideas of how they’re planning on handling graduation and we want those to go out and I hope that, perhaps, I can even come and be there and attend and see some of those from a distance happening.”
School districts have been provided with some flexibility, according to Spearman, regarding the time they have between now and the end of the year. During that time, districts will be allowed to take care of a few necessary tasks.
“We’ve got a lot of materials that students have at home -- textbooks that need to be returned and cleaned so we can get ready for the next year. Some of their personal belongings are at school, so that will be one of the main things that needs to happen. There are some one-on-one assessments that we do with children that we may be able to carry those out, but we want to leave the flexibility to the district for that and that partnership with the parent if they feel comfortable that they could carry out some of those.”
Spearman also said a task force will be created to help determine if schools will be able to open in August.
“We hope that we’ll be prepared and ready to go,” Spearman said when asked about reopening schools in August, “but the answer to that question will have to be made as we get a little closer and to see how healthy everybody is and how our system is going. But absolutely, we’re going to be working toward that. How can we do it, though, in a very safe way?”
While there is still some uncertainly regarding the state’s next academic year, Spearman hopes there are no layoffs for teachers or school staff members.
“Our teachers have been paid throughout this time,” she said. “Obviously, I think anyone would recognize that tax revenue will be down and we’re waiting on the General Assembly to pass that continuing resolution, which will help us with our budgets starting up the year. That will depend on what the revenue is and what the General Assembly does with the school budget when they come back into session next fall and know more about what the revenue is then. I think every precaution will be taken to keep as many of our folks. We need these instructional folks working. So, that decision will be made later by the General Assembly.”