Teachers’ groups express concern about reopening schools in letter to SC governor

Teachers’ groups express concern about reopening schools in letter to SC governor
(Source: Jason Raven)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -  On Friday, education officials from across the state came together to express their concerns to Gov. Henry McMaster regarding the reopening of schools due to COVID-19.

The letter was written by leaders of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, SC for Ed, and the South Carolina Education Association. It mentioned the organizations’ appreciation for the guidelines created by AccelerateED, but it also noted a few issues that they said needed to be addressed.

“It is our belief that the report does not address two essential areas: all recommendation must be fully and equitably funded, and the State of South Carolina’s Department of Education must establish clear expectations and standards that apply to all districts,” the letter said.

On Monday, we spoke with all three groups about the letter and their concerns. The Palmetto State Teacher Association said their members desperately wish to return to in-person instruction but understand the safety and health of students and staff is paramount.

Director of Governmental Affairs Patrick Kelly said, "We think it's critically important that our political leaders remember plans for reopening in-person instruction should not be a political issue. This is a public health issue."

Founder of SC for ED Lisa Ellis said it’s important for all the recommendations from the AccelerateED taskforce be fully funded. “In order for it to be a successful venture back into the school building - you have to fund education appropriately,” Ellis said things like equipment for distance learning or PPE should be covered.

In the letter, the teacher groups said without this and the clear standards this will only reinforce the inequalities present in South Carolina public schools.

South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said, "There's a lot of nervousness among the teachers, parents, the students, because we just don't know yet what's going on. We just want to make sure that when we reopen that we do it in a manner that we're all safe and we can all feel good about."

Right now, DHEC metrics show 45 out of 46 counties in South Carolina are experiencing high disease activity of COVID-19. According to the AccelerateED report, school districts in these counties would be recommended to do full virtual learning until conditions improve.

Kelly said, "We're glad the school starts dates aren't tomorrow. According to DHEC's metric, this would prohibit practically all of our schools to be open for in person instruction."

Leaders of each organization requested uniformed policies to be drawn up by the state and communicated to each district “to alleviate confusion among teachers whose classroom energies will be taxed like never before.”

On Monday afternoon, Gov. McMaster’s office responded to the letter.

“Governor McMaster is committed to ensuring that South Carolina’s schools re-open with in-person classroom instruction, along with virtual home learning options for parents not ready to send their children back yet,” said Brian Symmes, the spokesperson for the Governor’s Office. “The school districts have received over $216 million from the CARES Act and have had ample time and resources to plan for safe and secure classroom instruction to start this school year.”

You can read the full letter below.

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