S.C. school details discussed as virus cases climb in state


COLUMBIA - It looks increasingly likely many South Carolina public school students will return to real classrooms at the end of the summer.

But the details on what those classrooms will look like next school year in the COVID-19 world and even how often students might be inside school buildings is still quite uncertain.

The discussions come amid spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

A record 331 coronavirus cases were reported Friday, bringing the total cases to more than 11,100. The state reported 13 deaths, just two days after setting a record with 20 reported deaths in a single day on Wednesday. At least 483 people have died from the virus so far in South Carolina, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported.

The percent of positive tests averaged over 28 days is declining, but the 14-day positive test average is increasing. The 20 deaths may have been a large number of people dying during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, with officials waiting to report the deaths until after the holiday instead of within 24 hours, said Joan Duwve, DHEC's Director of Public Health.

"We haven't really identified a pattern," Duwve said.

In the backdrop of uncertain testing data, a group of teachers, administrators and other education officials called the AccelerateED Task Force issued a report this week about what should be done with summer school geared toward elementary students to help them catch up with nearly three months away from the classroom.

Summer school should be considered a test run for fall classes, and districts should make every effort to teach elementary students in person this summer, said the task force, which was organized by state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman.

They also need to plan thoroughly for a possible disruption of in-person learning if there is a second wave of COVID-19 infections, the report said.

The report recommends 6 feet of social distancing in classrooms and buses. It suggests lunches could be eaten in classrooms with doors propped open when possible to keep children and teachers from touching doors. If recess is allowed, the report said students should wash their hands as soon as returning inside, and playground equipment should be immediately disinfected.

But plenty of details are left to local districts like Greenville County, which is the state's largest with 77,000 children or about 10% of all of South Carolina's public school students.

Earlier this week, the Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees heard about six different fall scheduling options but made no decision.

They ranged from all distance learning to dividing students in the district into four groups, with separate plans to bring one group in one day a week or two groups in two days a week with Friday as an online learning day. Other suggestions were a regular schedule like before the coronavirus or students in class every day, but attending for fewer hours so teachers could also do online learning for parents not comfortable sending them to school.

The South Carolina School Boards Association surveyed its members. Two-thirds of them supported some kind of split schedule in the fall if social distancing is still recommended.

Only 20% thought online or other out of classroom instruction to end this school year because of COVID-19 was equal to in school teaching and half of them felt schools shouldn't offer a choice of in person or online classes to parents. Some noted the extra work it would put on teachers, according to the survey. About half the state's school board members responded.

More than 82% thought standardized testing should be suspended next year, a position taken by teacher groups as well.

Exactly what will happen with fall high school sports is also uncertain. The South Carolina High School League said Thursday that athletes and teams at public schools can begin summer workouts when their district or school allows academic activities on campus. Other states have set their own dates for workouts to begin.