SOUTH CAROLINA, USA — An education task force in South Carolina just released its 200-page draft of recommendations for districts to follow when they return to school in the fall, and it will change just about every aspect of the educational day for students across the state.
The Accelerate Ed task force has been working for weeks to figure out ways to safely re-open schools in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“While much of what happens in the fall is uncertain, we do know for certain that things are going to look different,” says Dr. Latoya Dixon, Director of Elementary Programs and Gifted Education at York County District One.
Subcommittees examined every aspect of school life including education, facilities, and operations.
The task force report states that the recommendations should be tailored to each district’s needs given the current level of coronavirus concern in their respective communities.
“It’s going to be a work in progress for schools because a lot of these things they’re not gonna know until they have to do it in a live setting,” says task force member Alan Walters.
Among the chief recommendations: 5 extra educational days for students in 4K-8th grade, extending the hours of the school day to reduce the bottleneck of students at pick up and drop off, and staggering students' schedules.
Some districts are considering having students attend class in person either one week on, one week off, or attending in person a couple of days each week and remotely the other days.
Other recommendations include spacing desks at least 6 feet apart, installing sanitizing stations, and Plexiglass guards.
“I think we need to be clear from the outset that our primary focus and concern and need is to ensure safety,” says subcommittee chairman Patrick Kelly. “Step two is to communicate clearly to the public about how those steps have been taken.”
School districts are working to secure personal protective equipment for teachers and staff. Masks will likely be required for teachers in many situations and could be required for students in some situations as well. The report lists hallways, busses, and other shared spaces as potential places where students may be required to wear masks.
The report also highlights the need for schools to ensure they have a nurse on each campus: a challenge the report acknowledges many schools will likely struggle to meet.
“This has laid bare to us the result of a decade-plus of underinvestment in public education,” Kelly says.
Superintendent Dr. Molly Spearman says the Accelerate SC Task Force is currently reviewing funding for school districts to help them meet the new financial burdens.
“All of this should be settled in two weeks in terms of all of this will be funded,” Spearman says.
Other concerns addressed surrounded how students get to school each day. South Carolina’s DHEC recommends that school busses be capped at 50% capacity.
Spearman is asking parents whenever possible to drive their students to school themselves to reduce the number of students on a bus.
The report recommends districts require masks for bus drivers, provide hand sanitizer for students and bus drivers, and engage in regular deep cleanings of the buses.
Those deep cleanings would be expected in school buildings as well.
The report also asks each district to come up with contingency plans for if students have to resume remote learning due to a second wave of the virus. It also asks schools to plan for scenarios where large amounts of the teaching staff are unable to report to school in person as well.
Kelly is calling on parents to start modeling behavior and practices now to help teach children what will be expected of them in the fall. He also says that all of the plans could be uprooted if community members don’t wear masks and social distance to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
“The report alone does nothing unless we collectively as a state make a commitment to getting our kids back to school that starts now,” Kelly says. “What we do right now is going to determine whether we can open our schools in the fall.”
The report is still in its draft phase. For the remainder of the week, the task force is taking input from the public. If you would like to comment you can send your thoughts to the email address here: Email: Accelerate@ed.sc.gov