IRMO S.C. (WIS) - More than $33 million worth of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and more are headed to South Carolina’s 81 public school districts. State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman made the announcement Tuesday morning that the Department of Education would be purchasing this PPE with coronavirus relief money approved by the General Assembly.
Superintendent Spearman believes districts should now have what they need to offer face to face learning. “We don’t want any district to say we can’t go back to school because we need PPE,” she noted. “That is no excuse in South Carolina. We can fund it, and we have it ready for them. All they have to do is let us know, and we’ll get it out to them.”
The State Department of Education gave $10 million worth of PPEto 70 districts before the start of the school year, but Superintendent Spearman says this extra $33 million will help ensure schools do not run out. All districts were asked to submit their PPE requests in September, and Superintendent Spearman says they have all been filled. “Protecting staff, protecting students, it is worth whatever penny we spend,” said Spearman.
The $33 million includes 597,585 adult and student reusable cloth face masks, 2,681,950 disposable face masks, 108,476 boxes of gloves, and 606,473 cases of disinfecting wipes. The state will also purchase more than 300,000 pieces of plexiglass, 15,000 of which will be used in Lexington-Richland School District Five. “With the plexiglass and with the mask on, we now have been given the guidance that we can bring in students to three feet apart,” said Spearman. “Doing both of this together has added to the class size.”
Superintendent Spearman believes this PPE purchase will help districts currently offering a hybrid model move to 4 to 5 days a week of in-person instruction. For the ten percent of districts that are still only offering virtual learning, she says this should allow them to offer a face-to-face option. “We want everybody who wants to return to be able to come back to school,” she explained. “We still will be offering the virtual model, but all of our districts are working toward that to be sure if families want that to return, they can do that.”
Superintendent Spearman also announced the Department of Education will use CARES Act funding to pay for extra tutors to work one-on-one with students who may have fallen behind. More than 3,000 teachers will also have access to professional development to improve their virtual instruction. “I think we are just making everything very safe and friendly,” said River Springs Elementary Kindergarten teacher, Phyllis Griggs. “We are at ease, and we can open our minds to learning instead of worrying about what’s happening around us.”
The State Department of Education says South Carolina is also facing a shortage of substitute teachers, but Spearman says they are getting by right now. She’s encouraging retired teachers to consider coming back to help. “I have been so impressed with the environment that I see is being built in our schools,” she said. “I think it’s one of the safest places to be really inside a school building, inside a school bus, with the safety precautions that we are taking, and you can see for yourself.”
Superintendent Spearman also noted she’s been in touch with DHEC and the governor’s office, and as soon as COVID-19 rapid tests arrive in South Carolina, she says some will be sent to schools.