South Carolina’s school districts are waiting to see how to proceed with public school re-openings in the fall. In response, State Superintendant Molly Spearman and the AccelerateED Task Force have released their Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year for how to handle the back-to-school scenario. Some Upstate school districts have already shared possible options for returning to school, but everything hinges on the state’s recommendations.
We also have a summary of the AccelerateED Task Force meeting on Friday that discussed the feedback that the Task Force received and their responses and changes based on that feedback.
What Is The AccelerateED Task Force?
Last month The US Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and SC DHEC released their guidelines and guidance for school re-openings. These guidelines were a shock to many of us, who hadn’t really thought about what going back to school would entail.
The draft of the Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year discusses how these recommendations can be followed in South Carolina as well as deals with other issues surrounding the pandemic such as budgets, possible staff shortages, and changes in student needs. The document states:
To assist schools and districts in these efforts, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman convened AccelerateED, a task force composed of educators and administrators representing all aspects of the K-12 public education system. In the task force’s first meeting on April 30, 2020, Superintendent Spearman charged the members with studying barriers to school operations and student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and providing recommendations on how schools and districts can best meet the needs of struggling learners in the summer and restart the state’s public education system in the fall. On May 26, 2020, AccelerateED released its first report with recommendations for how to proceed with summer learning activities. The task force then turned its full attention to the start of the 2020-21 school year, and as a result of twenty-five meetings, put forth the considerations and recommendations outlined within this document.AccelerateED Task Force: DRAFT Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
June 14, 2020
It’s important to understand that while this document is significant that the Task Force is not a legislative committee. Without state mandates, these guidelines are not enforceable. Also, each district is responsible to produce their own plan. So, while these guidelines can give us an idea of what to expect in South Carolina and to understand the DHEC regulations schools may be operating under, we will need to wait for District’s to announce their plans to have a clearer idea of what our individual schools will look like in the fall.
The Task Force Goal:
In the Press Conference on June 22, 2020 and in the documents, it’s emphasized that the Task Force goal is “protecting the health, safety and wellness of students and staff while giving students the best possible learning experience that is as close to normal as health and safety allow.”
What Does It Mean For Students?
The documents included in the guidelines and recommendations are plentiful. As one would hope for thoroughness when it comes to our children’s well being. We did the hard work and have narrowed it down to the parts that most parents will want to read. If you would like to read the entire report or the Task Force summary, they are available on the new Dedication to Education website.
We will be covering what they recommend for schools to reopen, the options if re-opening isn’t a safe option, and what school would look like should in-person learning occur. Remember this whole situation is very fluid and the Task Force will rely on DHEC to produce many of the final recommendations and guidelines over the coming week.
There Are 3 Models Based on Community Spread that Are Recommended for School in Fall
Because we are in uncharted territory, no one really knows what August 2020 will look like. As of the date of publication of the draft for these guidelines, South Carolina is seeing a spike in cases three times that the rate of the national average. People are desperate to get back to normalcy, but the virus isn’t cooperating. The AccelerateED task force offered these three different models for how a return to school could look in the fall:
Model 1: “Traditional” Scheduling (p. 33-35)
This model includes everyone (students & teachers) returning to schools in the fall. The task force document stated in bold and italics that this model will only be an option if there is “low or no spread of COVID-19 in the area.” The document admits that this scenario is “ideal” for education and that schools must prioritizing following DHEC and CDC guidelines. While this model is the closest to traditional school it will still include modifications.
The task force states “Even in the event that schools can return in a “traditional” fashion in August, districts should still seek to make modifications to their scheduling and instructional practices to mitigate continued risks related to COVID-19.”
Modifications listed include communication about “protocols and expectations”, class size caps, reduction of transitions, modified school day, and planning for potential self-isolation periods.
In order to meet class size caps, schools are encouraged to review desk and seating placement, limit (or even eliminate) classroom activities that involve children being physically close to each other, use more large spaces such as cafeterias and outside areas, and ensure that children with IEPs aren’t isolated from peers.
Reduction of transitions includes directions about how to decrease the amounts of people in the hallways, decrease places of congregation, lessen the amounts of students mixing (for example keeping groups of students together so that teachers rotate rather than students), and reducing out-of-school field trips.
Modified school day refers to having high schoolers schedule arranged so that they arrive early or late rather than having study hall breaks in the day.
Schools are also directed to plan for potential self-isolation periods.
“Based on current health guidance, the possibility exists in the fall that significant numbers of staff or students could be required to complete a period of self-isolation or quarantine due to potential exposure to COVID-AccelerateED Task Force: Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
19 without contracting the illness.”
June 22, 2020
The guidance suggests that schools prepare for distance learning for these situations.
Model 2: Hybrid Scheduling (p. 35-36)
Hybrid Scheduling is proposed for the situation that medium spread of COVID-19 is present in the area. With hybrid scheduling some students and staff will be at school but others will engage in distance learning. There are several suggested two options for hybrid scheduling: AM/PM Model and Alternating Days.
With this option it is stated that priority for in-person instruction should be given to four groups: pre-K and elementary, students with IEPs especially those that need in-person therapies, English learners, and high schoolers in CTE programs that involve a large degree of hands on learning.
Solutions such as having elementary students meet on high school campuses while high schoolers learn via distance learning are proposed.
The AM/PM Model is defined as “half of the student body attends class in the morning and then engages in distance learning in the afternoon while the other half of the student body engages in distance learning in the morning before attending in-class sessions in the afternoon (p. 36).”
The Alternating Days Model looks similar to some of the solutions we have seen Greenville County propose such as students attend on an AB schedule with splitting the student body so that all students alternate attending school in-person with Fridays used for distance learning and deep cleaning.
There are a number of questions asked about the Hybrid Model that parents will like find interesting (p. 36). These questions include concerns such as childcare needs, educational concerns, burdens on families with multiple children, and how teachers will maintain relationships with families in this situation.
Model 3: Full Distance Learning (p. 37-38)
This model which is reserved for high COVID-19 spread in the area resembles what we experienced in the spring but with more guidance and considerations. Recommendations are made for increasing communication of expectations, planning for helping teachers and families build relationships at a distance, and how to meet the needs of English learners and children with IEPs.
Safety Precaution Recommendations for Fall
The guidelines include recommendations from the task force on Reopening and Continuity of Operations (p. 24) as well as appendixes that include guidelines from the CDC and DHEC. Many of the recommendations are administrative but we believe these are the recommendations that most would interest parents:
Communicating Preventative Measures: “In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other illness, districts and schools must have plans in place to ensure that sick employees and students stay home. This plan should also extend to encouraging and insisting that students and employees remain home if someone in the household has COVID-19 symptoms or is being tested for COVID-19 (p. 25) .”
School Dismissal and Arrival
Staggering times that students and enter and leave school even if it increases the length of the school day.
Face Masks and PPE:
Recommendations for the use of masks and other PPE should be determined by districts in accordance with the latest guidance from DHEC and/or the CDC. The SCDE has purchased cloth face masks for all teachers for the coming school year. Some staff may be required to wear additional PPE due to health-related concerns while others may be directed to do so by district or school policy for certain job duties (i.e.-custodial staff, specialized positions, etc.) In the event additional PPE is required for job duties, it may be necessary for schools to provide the required PPE.AccelerateED Task Force: DRAFT Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
June 14, 2020
The DHEC Interim Guidance Appendix (p. 48)
Strongly encourage faculty and staff to wear masks or cloth face coverings as much as possible. Consideration may be given to recommending them for students. Cloth face coverings should not be used on children under two years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone unable to remove the face covering without assistance.AccelerateED Task Force: DRAFT Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
June 14, 2020
SC Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman stated in the June 19, 2020 AccelerateED Task Force Meeting in regards to masks, “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 when we are out in public. You will see that DHEC and the Department of Education will set an expectation for mask wearing among school communities. Will it be required for all? No, because there are some folks, some children that should not wear masks, but certainly we need to press on our faculty and our parents that one way to hold on the spread is to wear masks so we are working with DHEC on that language and hope that the public will support us in trying to be as careful as possible by wearing masks”
Note: While we have seen many statements that the Task Force is requiring face masks for students, these guidelines do not state that. Molly Spearman’s statement seems to indicate that guidance may be coming and districts may have rules requiring student mask wearing but as of now we have not seen any guidance recommending or requiring masks for students.
SCDHEC has released the definitions of “low, medium, and high” spread of the virus as well:
“Under current DHEC guidance in our state, buses should not be filled beyond 50 percent capacity, where practical.”AccelerateED Task Force: DRAFT Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
June 14, 2020
In the June 19, 2020 AccelerateED Task Force meeting, Dr. Scott Turner, the Deputy Superintendent Greenville County, stated that he was concerned about:
“the question of full face-to-face instruction while DHEC is continuing to say that we need to follow social distancing guidelines in classrooms that do not all have desks but many of them have tables. . . . And also the continuing guidelines of buses operating at 50% capacity. This really places districts in an untenable position. That is the crux of the problem is as we look at those guidelines and we are being asked to return to normal. How does that happen? … Many people feel uncomfortable saying we are going to have fully open, functioning schools when DHEC is saying, and I agree with what they are saying, that we have to maintain social distancing in a classroom and in a school bus.”
Playgrounds and Recess
Districts should evaluate recess procedures to maximize social distancing and reduce touching of shared surfaces. These procedures could includeAccelerateED Task Force: DRAFT Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
alternate recess schedules to reduce the number of students on the playground at one time, providing for time to disinfect equipment between uses, or, if disinfection is not possible, restricting the use of playground equipment.
June 14, 2020
Other Recommendations to Help Students
Suggestions to increase student learning and retention this year include ideas such as extended school days, extra reading and math instruction, Saturday classes, and looping (keeping kids with the same teacher as last year) (p. 30).
The importance of a well-rounded education including the arts is reiterated (p. 31) with suggestions given to schools on how to do so safely.
Concerns about how to resume choirs and bands safely was brought up by Spearman in the June 19, 2020 meeting. It was stated that appendixes would be added with guidance as studies are currently taking place to help provide those guidelines. We do not see those appendixes yet and assume that they will be released at a later date.
A Couple Last Notes
The document is long and while we can’t cover everything, we would like to point out the following sections and statements for parents and direct them to the full document for more information.
On Student Attendance and Potential Staff Shortages:
According to recent surveys, there is a strong possibility that some parents will not allow their children to return to school even in the event of the resumption of “normal” operations in August. For example, a May 26th USA Today poll found that nearly 30 percent of parents are “very likely” to choose a home option for instruction in the fall, even if schools reopen. Similarly, the poll found approximately 20 percent of teachers are hesitant to return to campus, with an even higher percentage among older teachers. Given this data, it is imperative that districts enter the start of the 2020-21 school year with a plan in place to address the likelihood that a portion of students and staff will not return to campus due to the increased health riskAccelerateED Task Force: DRAFT Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
posed by COVID-19.
June 14, 2020
Page 9 also states that schools are likely to face staff shortages due to COVID-19.
On School Calendars
Schools are encouraged to review their calendars and reassess start dates and breaks. Some of the proposed ideas include switching to year-round school, an extended winter break, or scheduling by semester (p. 10).
On School Budgets
Districts should review and potentially revise their budget planning for the 2020–21 school year and build in contingencies that address funding or lack of state funding for cleaning, supplies, PPE, etc. Districts should also exercise discretion and caution with budgeting and expenditures given uncertainty about the available revenues the General Assembly will have when it reconvenes in September to finalize the 2020–21 state budget.AccelerateED Task Force: Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
June 22, 2020
On School Attendance
Districts should review and consider discontinuing attendance incentive programs for staff and students in order to diminish pressure for an individual to report to school when feeling ill. Similarly, districts should review policies and procedures included in handbooks and athletic codes of conduct to remove punitive measures for absences when a student is experiencing symptoms of or has potentially been exposed to COVID-19AccelerateED Task Force: Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
June 22, 2020
On distance-learning choices:
Districts should clearly communicate to parents that those applying for a fully distance-learning experience would only be able to return to in-person instruction in the event of space availability for in-person sections.AccelerateED Task Force: Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year
June 22, 2020
We also have a summary of the AccelerateED Task Force meeting on Friday to discuss all feedback that the Task Force received and the changes that they made based on that feedback.
What Can Parents Do?
We can all work together to try to reduce virus spread as much as possible to reduce our state numbers.
“If you want to go back to school, if you want to go to football games, if you want to cheer on your team, you need to be wearing a mask when you are out in public. It is one of the few things that we know that is effective and folks are just not doing it like they should and it’s going to cause us not to not be able to implement this plan, so I’m calling on the public to participate and really do the things that we know now, we are learning more and more as we go through this pandemic but wearing a mask is effective and we need to do that. We are calling on those that want to see school start, those that want to go to football games, we got to do our part.”Molly Spearman, SC Superintendent of Education
Your district is still forming their plan. You can email your district to express your concerns.
For content purposes, a condensed version of some of the sections has been included in this article. The full AccelerateED Task Force Guidance and Recommendations for 2020-21 School Year can be found here.
Kidding Around will continue to try and be a resource for parents through this difficult time. If you are considering homeschooling, private school or online charter school in the fall to have an element of certainty in your lives, we have resources for that as well.
- Read Bethany’s thoughts on why she is considering homeschooling this fall.
- You can read a first-hand account of what a typical homeschool day looks like, versus the crisis homeschooling we experienced in the spring from Kidding Around’s Maria.
- A Q & A video for parents about starting homeschooling in South Carolina.
- 11 frequently asked questions about getting started with homeschooling.
- Our homeschool guide which is full of resources.
Private schools have more autonomy than public schools and most of our private school partners have expressed that they are planning to open for regular 5-day school in the fall. We have a number of video tours on our Facebook page as well as our Private School Guide to Greenville.
Public Online Charter Schools
South Carolina also has several online charter schools that offer a free public school for families. We interviewed Cyber Academy of South Carolina several weeks ago on Facebook to learn more about this option.
Regardless of what is decided, our education system will continue to face an extraordinary set of challenges that will require unprecedented levels of patience and cooperation from both families and school systems.
We can do this.