Most knew student achievement has taken a hit in the pandemic, and last week's state report cards' release confirmed those drops. The only way to go is forward and to help students recover.
"Moving forward" are the words of a state Department of Education official and the perspective of the agency as school districts now look to take aim at addressing learning loss associated with COVID-19.
"That's pretty much where the angle has to go from here: 'You own the results, and you move forward and demonstrate how you are going to get back to where you were previously and, hopefully at some point, exceed those,'" said a state department spokesman, Derek Phillips.
Districts have a record total in federal funding to address the challenges. That's the good news, according to Phillips. But virus cases have surged in the last month as the delta variant of COVID-19 has spread rapidly, especially in younger adults and children.
In the spring and early summer, when virus cases were low in the state, most felt a return to in-person instruction this school year would be a key part to improvement after many students were stuck at home last year learning remotely.
But with the virus case surge and an increasing number of student quarantines, some districts have transitioned back to virtual instruction temporarily. As of late Friday, 11 districts and about 40 other individual public schools spread through other counties in the state have moved fully virtual for two weeks, including Clarendon School District 2 in Manning.
"The focus now is how to get students back in the classroom safely face to face, and that is obviously a whole other battle that we are fighting now with the delta," Phillips added.
In the core subjects of math and English/language arts in grades 3-8 on standardized tests, students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations dropped across the state compared to test results from 2019. (The state waived assessments altogether in spring 2020 with the initial spread of COVID-19.)
Now, a state budget amendment passed by the General Assembly in late June prohibits school districts from implementing mask mandates or risk their funding being affected.
State Superintendent Molly Spearman said she was not shocked by the test results but "very, very concerned," and she expressed frustration with the state not allowing districts to institute mask requirements. The state's highest court last week tossed out a school mask mandate in Columbia, ruling it contradicted the state budget measure.
"I'm almost to the point of anger," she said. "I'm extremely concerned that we are putting ourselves in a situation where schools are having to close and go virtual. That's not what any of us wanted."
DISTRICTS IMPLEMENTING THEIR OWN MASK MANDATES
According to the state Department of Education as of late Friday, seven school districts in the state - of the 77 total - had imposed their own mask requirements/mandates, despite the state budget amendment banning them. Last week, Sumter School District's Board of Trustees voted down a school mask requirement in a 5-4 vote.
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