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Only 22% of SC districts start fully in-person with all school reopening plans approved | COVID-19

COLUMBIA — The latest round of approvals Monday by state Superintendent Molly Spearman mean all 81 of South Carolina’s school districts are cleared to proceed with their reopening plans, which are a mix of in-classroom and online instruction.

Classes resume in just one week in 17 districts. In 31 others, officials pushed back the opening day to Sept. 8 — the day after Labor Day. The rest start sometime in between. 

“With reopening plans now approved, I am asking every South Carolinian to support their local school in the reopening process,” Spearman said. “Whether it is driving a neighbor’s child to school, providing temporary child care, supporting an educator, or simply wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing, every person in our state can help us get back to full face-to-face instruction as quickly and safely as possible.”

Only 18 districts are offering parents a full-week option from the outset, as Gov. Henry McMaster asked every district to do. His request last month was immediately met with criticism by advocates of school boards, administrators and teachers, who protested coming back amid South Carolina’s high COVID-19 case numbers.

“Of course there are a lot of parents out there right now who want their kids to go to school. There’s no substitute for face-to-face learning, teaching in the school,” McMaster said after a ribbon-cutting in Greenville. “It should be the parents’ choice.” 

It’s important for students to be in school, he said, not only to get an education, but also its social and emotional aspects. 

The last batch of 14 plans approved on Monday include Horry County, the state’s third-biggest with about 45,600 students; Richland Two in suburban Columbia, the fifth-biggest with 28,300; and Blackville-Hilda in rural Barnwell County, the smallest with 600 students.

All 81 districts offer parents all-virtual and in-person options, though in 14 districts, even the in-person offering is expected to start fully online.

Spearman has required those districts to bring students into the classroom at least one day weekly by Sept. 14. Orangeburg County plans to transition directly on that day from fully online to full weeks in the classroom. 

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Richland Two and Blackville-Hilda, both of which start Sept. 8, are among seven school districts starting their youngest students with five days of face-to-face learning — through at least second grade and on up to fifth, depending on the district — while their older students open under a hybrid schedule of in-person and online. 

Horry County, which also starts Sept. 8, will likely start all students opting for in-person on a hybrid schedule. The 38 other districts doing that include rural Colleton County. The rural Lowcountry district abandoned its initial plan to start entirely online after Spearman made clear she would not approve anything without an in-classroom option.

Parents wanting the all-virtual track generally had to sign up by a deadline. But Fairfield County took the opposite approach of automatically putting students in that category unless their parents specifically requested a face-to-face option.  

Two weeks ago, Spearman announced masks will be required on school buses, allowing them to transport more students, with capacity increasing from half to two-thirds. Days later, she expanded the mandate to inside school buildings, too.  

Spearman told legislators last week parents who don’t want their child wearing a mask should choose an all-virtual option.

“It really is a privilege. You are very, very fortunate if you’re able to go back face to face,” she told a state House panel. “You must wear a mask as you get on a school bus or enter a facility or go down hallways.” 

She said it’s adults who have a problem with it, not the children. 

When visiting a summer school program of 100 kindergartners through third graders recently, she said, she visited every class and noticed that “every single child” had on a mask.

“Teachers said the children have been so obedient and excited to be back, and they were taking their responsibility of wearing their masks,” she said. “We’re going to give them a chance to teach all the rest of us.” 

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

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