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Final plan for reopening South Carolina schools released

The AcclerateED task force presented recommendations for how districts can reopen.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman gave the state's final recommendations for how public schools will reopen safely.

Spearman released Monday a plan that she and the AccelerateED task force came up with. But she admits that all plans are dependent on what the virus does.

Read the Full Report by the Task Force

"If it continues on the same path we're on right now it's going to be extremely difficult for us to be able to go back face-to-face," Spearman admitted.

South Carolina saw 1,002 new cases on Monday, the third time in the last four days the number eclipsed 1,000 cases. Since the month began, there has been a large spike in overall cases.

The AccelerateED group was created by Spearman and the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to assess how schools should navigate education since the COVID-19 health crisis. 

Among the ideas approved last week by the group included requiring face masks for all students and staff unless there is a medical reason they cannot. It would also call for social distancing as much as possible, including having hallways were students walk in one direction only. 

The task force said school buses will operated at just under 50 percent capacity, and there will be a push to ask as many parents who can to take their students to class on their own.  

There would also be staggered arrivals and dismissals, and public drinking fountains will not be used. 

The districts have also been talking about ways to improve distance learning, what cleaning protocols to put in place, and having PPE available for students and staff. 

Spearman said she will ask for a waiver for standardized testing, although she is unclear if the federal government will go along with those. 

While these guidelines are put out by the state, there is some flexibility to allow local districts to make changes that work best for them.

With the recent increase of COVID-19 cases in the state, Spearman said the community must wear masks and social distance if anything is to change. 

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“If we want to keep schools open, if we want to get back to a more normal life, we have to maintain social distancing and we have to wear masks while we’re out in public… It is one of the few things we know that are effective and folks are just not doing it.”

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Spearman noted that the Department of Education is in “constant communication” with DHEC to work on establishing detailed protocols for dealing with COVID-19 in schools.

RELATED: Task force shares recommendations for reopening South Carolina schools in fall

RELATED: AccelerateED task force talks recommendations for summer programs 

The AccelerateED report states, “in order to best guide district decision making, the state department should collaborate with DHEC to develop clear criteria for determining the rate of spread of COVID-19 in an area. Districts need clear guidance from our public health authorities to determine which of the three health conditions – low, medium or high spread - an area is in.” 

DHEC is still working on those guidelines.

The group also suggests removing standardized testing for the coming school year, “this task force recommends the State Department seek a waiver from accountability testing measures in the coming school year.”