S.C. Governor Henry McMaster told the state Wednesday that they are asking all school districts to submit re-opening plans that give parents the option to send children back to school full-time, or to keep their children home for virtual instruction.
"We're here today working for our children. The children of S.C. are the future of our state. We must educate every child in S.C. There is nothing more essential, nothing more important than education ... it's in our Constitution." McMaster said.
Districts have been asked to submit their re-opening plans by this Friday, July 17, but during Monday night's Horry County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Rick Maxey said that extensions are available if necessary.
McMaster also asked districts to consider waiting to begin school until September 8, which Horry County decided to do Monday night.
The Governor said that each district must allow the parents to make the choice between full, in-person learning and virtual learning.
"I've asked Ms. Spearman [Superintendent of Education] not to approve any plan that doesn't give parents the choice to send their children to school for face-to-face instruction," McMaster said. "Each district must craft their own re-opening plans. I'm not issuing an executive order on this. The legislature has spoken ... that is the law."
Spearman was not in attendance at the press conference, and McMaster said that Spearman and others were invited to attend. Those in attendance were the only ones that accepted the invitation, he said.
McMaster emphasized the over 10,000 students that teachers have been unable to reach during school closures for COVID-19.
"Children have dropped off the radar because they were not physically coming to school each day," McMaster said.
He also said children have lost valuable learning progress and educational momentum.
"We're now learning even more some frightening things about the impact of isolation and uncertainty on mental health. Children simply left our system," he said.
S.C. Senator Katrina Shealy said that there has been a 50 percent decrease in reports of abuse and neglect, and that is not a good thing.
"Teachers aren't putting their eyes on students, and when teachers don't put their eyes on students, nobody is talking about little Johnny who isn't getting nutrition at home, or maybe he's getting abused at home. Then what happens? Every night he's still getting abused at home."
Senator Harvey Peeler spoke to his "fellow freedom lovers" about wearing masks.
"If I can wear one of these uncomfortable aggravations, I know you can too," Peeler said, saying he spoke to many doctors with no political agenda and their guidance is why he began wearing a mask in public.
Senator Greg Hembree, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said that while the virtual learning that took place this past Spring should get an A+ for effort, but that the results have been "abysmal."
"In math, students have lost a complete year. In English, students have lost a complete semester," Hembree said, adding that other countries have opened safely and successfully without virus numbers spiking.
"Parents deserve an option ... the adults will have to work harder to serve the children, which is their chosen profession and really their responsibility," Hembree said.
S.C. Representative Rita Allison asked parents to "step up to the plate."
"Some of your children have not been found. They are out there floundering. Register them, let them by found," Allison said.
Dr. Brannon Traxler with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control did not give specifics about what would happen if teachers or students tested positive at a school.
"DHEC is working on guidance, we have interim guidance for situations where there are cases or contacts within a school. We will continue to develop that and expound on it as more guidance comes from the CDC [Center for Disease Control]," Traxler said.
Board chairman Ken Richardson sent a statement Wednesday in response to McMaster's announcement.
"As Chairman of the Horry County Board of Education, I have promised the parents of our county’s children that I am ready to send our students back to school for face-to-face instruction as soon as it is safe to do so. This past Monday night, Dr. Maxey and his staff shared with our school board the system developed by DHEC for determining the spread of COVID-19 in each county," Richardson said. "School districts use this information to decide whether to return students to school full-time, part-time, or to serve them through distance learning. Speaking for myself, and not on behalf of the board, I believe it is important to use our state’s disease experts to guide our decision making for when and how we return our students and employees to schools. I intend to recommend to our board that we continue to follow DHEC’s guidance when we meet on August 3 to vote on the district’s re-opening plan. For now, all I can say is that this is between the Governor’s Office and the State Superintendent’s Office."
McMaster continued to encourage people to wear masks.
"As you know infection rates go up and down and we give numbers of hospitalization, ventilators, the death rate ... those are just facts of life we have to deal with. We can't stop everything. We can't stop progress in education ... we can't shut down forever. We cannot shut down our state ... we cannot shut down our education system indefinitely. We know this shut down is hurting these children," McMaster said.
He reiterated he was asking the Superintendent to be sure that included in any district plan is the option for five-day, in-person instruction.
"Teachers will be back every day, there's no plan ... for the teachers not to be in the school. We want to have as many children as possible in schools with them and that will be a choice of the parents," he said. "We have to weigh our doubt against the certainties. It is for certain if students don’t get back to school they are going to fall behind and some may never catch up."