COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster says districts must give parents the option of face-to-face instruction when schools open and suggests districts should delay the start of the year until early September to make that happen.
McMaster said he's requiring all schools to submit their plans for reopening by this Friday, July 17. Those plans must give parents the options to send their children to school five days a week or to have a virtual option.
'We must educate every child in our state," McMaster said. "We must give parents the choice...we must do it safely, we must do it carefully, but we must do it."
To that end, McMaster said districts have latitude to create their own plans but those plans must include a five day a week instruction option as well as the virtual plan. He did not give an executive order, however. State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman has been told no plan can be approved that does not give parents the full option to send their kids back for in-person learning.
"If a parent wants to send their child back to school, they should be able to do so with confidence," he added. "If they want to keep them home, they must also do that with confidence."
McMaster said districts should consider pushing the start date for schools back to September 8, which is after Labor Day, so they can have plenty of time to implement their plan. That includes coming up with schedules for pickup times.
South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman issued the following statement in response.
“Every South Carolina parent must be afforded the option to choose virtual learning or a face to face model for their child this school year," Spearman said. " The pandemic has shown the vital importance of our public education system and the broad range of services beyond teaching it provides for our students every day. Our goal must be a return to five day a week in person instruction as safely and as soon as possible."
"We cannot, however turn a blind eye to the health and safety of our students and staff when the spread of the virus in some of our communities is among the highest in the world. School leaders, in consultation with public health experts, 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 and will only approve those plans that offer high quality options and keep safety as their top priority.”
A spokesman for her later confirmed that she disagreed with the governor's plan for five-day a week classes and chose not to attend the news conference.
Also not at McMaster's event were any Democrats in state office. Rep. Wendy Brawley of Richland County said she was not aware of any members of her party on the COVID-19 committee or education committee being invited.
"I think no one denies that the schools need to be open," Brawley said. "Our children are much better served from in-person learning. But our first job as government officials is keeping the people of South Carolina safe. And as a parent and a grandparent my first job is to keep my children and grandchildren safe. So I don't think enough emphasis was put on what the state is doing to make sure schools are safe environments particularly as this COVID-19 continues to spread and ravage the entire state."
Meanwhile, the governor pointed to the 10,000 school children who they still haven't heard from since the pandemic began.
"Children have dropped off the radar because they were not coming to school every day, they've lost progress," he said.
He said for many, they don't have the internet access to realistically take part in virtual learning.
"We can't restrict learning by forcing students to take place virtually when they can't," he said, while also acknowledging that they're trying to expand internet options in rural areas.
The federal government has given the state $216 million in federal emergency funding to put in place their plans.
Joining McMaster was South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas and Senate President Harvey Peeler. Peeler made a plead for people to wear masks to get the coronavirus under control so everything can be safer.
"To my freedom lovers, if I can wear this uncomfortable mask, you can too," he said. He added that he's talked to doctors across the state and they all say that masks and face coverings stop the virus' spread.
Spearman told News19 Monday said school systems are still preparing for face-to-face instruction but are planning virtual options as well.
"They can, right now through our three South Carolina charter virtual schools. Most districts are going to be offering their own virtual program for K through 12 and then we have a numerous array of courses through our virtual SC here at the Department of Education that are also free for homeschool, private school, and public school parents. So everybody has an option.
South Carolina has seen an explosion in new cases over the last several weeks. On Tuesday, the state nearly set a record for cases and did set a new high mark for COVID-19 complications.