COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) - Governor Henry McMaster will give parents across South Carolina the choice between sending their children back to school and remote learning this academic year.
Gov. McMaster was joined by State Senate President Harvey Peeler and House Speaker Jay Lucas for the announcement at the South Carolina State House Wednesday.
“What we need to do is take every step at our disposal to see to it that our children get back in their classrooms,” McMaster said. “We must do it safely, we must do it carefully, but we must do it.”
“Parents need to have a choice. They need to say to their districts whether they want their children to go in class five days a week or whether they want a virtual education at home,” McMaster continued. “It must be their choice, but we must have our schools available.”
The State Department of Education has directed public schools to submit their completed school reopening plans for review and approval by Friday, July 17.
McMaster wants any district plan that does not give parents the choice between a five-day, in-classroom option and a virtual learning option will not be approved.
“If a parent wants to send their child back to school, they should be able to do so - and do so with confidence,” McMaster said, “If a parent wants to keep a child at home, they should be able to do that, and do it with confidence.”
McMaster’s statement goes against what Superintendent Molly Spearman and her task force spent months figuring out. Her task force left three options for the districts to decide what’s best.
”We know what may work in one community may not work in another,” says Spearman.
”Schools must have in person face to face teachers so these children do not fall behind. Ladies and gentlemen if they fall behind just in this short period they will never catch up. We may have a generation lost,” says McMaster.
This comes as many school districts across the state have already presented plans on how to safely welcome students and teachers back into the classroom during the coronavirus pandemic. Several of our area’s school districts have put out plans for a mix of virtual and in person learning. Fort Mill Schools has elementary students coming in five days a week. However, some education officials have voiced their concerns about reopening due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Representative Mandy Powers Norrell says McMaster’s requests are just that.
”The press conference is basically a wish list from the governor. It was not a mandate. It should not be taken as a mandate. It was part of the debate to try to win over public opinion,” says Powers Norrell.
Powers Norrell says the decision power rests in the hands of State Superintendent Molly Spearman. Spearman, who was not at the press conference, released a statement during it saying “School leaders...are best positioned to determine how in-person operations should be carried out to fit the needs of their local communities. I remain committed to supporting them in this endeavor...”
“That is leadership. Bravo Superintendent Spearman,” says Powers Norrell. “I agree with her I think it is the locals who are in the best position to determine what reopening should look like.”
SCforEd, a teacher’s advocacy organization, also put out a statement about the decision saying “As an organization, we are saddened, disappointed, and appalled by today’s careless and dangerous statements on the part of Governor McMaster. We ask that all educators contact Superintendent Spearman to encourage her to continue to allow districts to use DHEC guidance to make plans that prioritize students and staff safety...”
McMaster also suggested a September 8 start date for schools to implement reopening plans. However, some schools have already been changing calendars to an earlier start date to accommodate the S.C. legislature’s LEAP days.
Many districts are also deciding on whether to push back school start dates in order to give teachers and staff more time to safely prepare classrooms as well.
South Carolina schools have been closed since March when COVID-19 cases started to ramp up in the state.
State Superintendent Molly Spearman said the decision to reopen South Carolina schools would not be swayed by pressure from the federal government.
“Education is a state and local issue. To say that everybody has to return back immediately in the same old way in school, those kind of decisions should not be made by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.,” Spearman said. “Those decisions and what we’re doing in South Carolina are best made here in South Carolina.”
Spearman then said the decision to reopen or not will be based on information from the state’s department of health and the CDC.
She did believe in-person classes will resume next month.
The state’s Department of Education has also ordered almost 500,000 masks for teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers. Each worker will get five to use and then wash.