State public schools to remain closed

District 55 Superintendent Stephen Peters

UPDATE: South Carolina public schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year.

The fate of the academic year for South Carolina’s public schools was learned Wednesday morning as officials announced that schools will remain closef for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman made the announcement at a Wednesday morning press conference in Columbia.

Superintendents across the state met via conference call this past week and voted in support of keeping the schools shuttered. About two-thirds of those polled voted in favor of not returning to school.

“Everything is being taken into consideration,” said Laurens County District 55 Superintendent Stephen Peters. “As a superintendent, I feel we are too close to the end to risk staff or students’ well-being. … I think what we’re doing right now is beginning to work. I’d rather assure that schools can start on time in August rather than go back and try to get started in May.”

Under an executive order from McMaster, schools were previously closed through the end of April.

District 56 Superintendent David O’Shields said he voted to reopen schools – under optimal circumstances – on May 18, which would be two weeks after the current executive order ends.

“I fully understand that what I may have wanted was a best-case scenario,” O’Shields said. “It would be if things recede.

District 56 Superintendent David O’Shields

“We’re playing a lot of this the best we can. We can’t risk our teachers, our aids, our assistants, our bus drivers or our students. We want to affirm the value of the human life first and foremost.”

Both O’Shields and Peters agreed that their teachers and staff members have done exceptional work during an unprecedented time as they attempt to navigate uncharted waters.

“We have to be clear that what we’re doing isn’t homeschooling. It isn’t virtual school. What we’re doing is much more complicated than that,” Peters said. “Those are choices – parents are ready for that. What we’re doing is implementing an emergency distance learning plan for a pandemic that was developed in a couple of weeks. We have hundreds of teachers doing the best they can to learn new virtual platforms and change from face-to-face learning to digital virtual learning.”

Lunchroom staffs from both districts prepare thousands of meals each weekday for students, and bus drivers deliver meals and onboard WiFi hotspots at locations throughout the districts to provide internet to students who need it.

“It amazes me the creativity of the staff as they maintain the three things I said we have to do during this time,” O’Shields said. “We have to communicate more effectively. We have to comfort because this is a loss of sorts for our students; and we have to connect. . . . There has to be a pervasive optimism that we will get through this, and we will.”

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