Parents, teachers in SC want kids back at school. Spokesperson doesn't expect full closure
School's out for summer, but parents, students and educators don't yet know whether fall will have kids back in the classroom or still e-learning at the kitchen table due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A majority of parents and teachers who responded to recent surveys conducted by The Greenville News say they want students back in the classroom fall.
The remote learning put in place for children since classrooms closed in March has been lacking, according to many parents and teachers.
What to know:Coronavirus in South Carolina
"I'm not a teacher," said Nena Fish, parent of rising second, fourth and sixth-graders. "They need face-to-face learning with a certified teacher.”
"It has been nearly impossible with both parents having to work outside of the home," said Katie Hoffman, parent of first and third-graders.
Charna Baum, parent of second, fifth and seventh-graders, said "e-learning was ineffective."
Still, more than 31% of parents who responded said they would support at least some amount of e-learning in the fall.
"I feel that the experience was the 'next best thing' to being live and in person," said Martha Vaughn, parent of a fourth-grader.
Gov. Henry McMaster has the authority to close schools, as he did in March, but Ryan Brown, spokesperson for the state Department of Education, said he doesn't foresee that happening this fall.
Guidance based on expert advice for all school districts in the state is to come in the weeks ahead from state officials. The individual districts will determine how they operate within state guidelines, according to Brown.
With case numbers rising and Greenville County awaiting the department's decision on how to proceed, leaders of the largest school district in South Carolina have laid out six possible options for a return to school, ranging from full-time e-learning to full-time in-person instruction.
We want to hear from you:As Greenville considers school options in the fall, we want to hear from parents, educators
Tim Waller, spokesperson for Greenville County Schools, said the six options that district officials have considered cover each of the possible expected scenarios:
- normal in-person class
- in-person instruction four days a week with e-learning on Friday
- staggered hours with some students attending in the mornings and others in the afternoons
- staggered days with some students attending Monday and Wednesday, others Tuesday and Thursday and no students in-person on Fridays
- students attending one day per week with four days of e-learning
- full-time e-learning
"We knew, even at this early stage, that we would have to consider every possibility in between the two extremes," Waller said.
Health and well-being of students and educators come first, official says
"You have to put the safety and health and well-being of students and educators first," Brown said. "Second is as much normalcy as we can bring back to school as possible. So that's kind of the lens we're looking at it through."
Brown said state officials are awaiting recommendations from the AccelerateEd task force, a branch of McMaster's AccelerateSC task force, which is working to offer guidance for reopening activities in the state. AccelerateEd, made up of several subcommittees, meets regularly to discuss plans to move forward.
The group is using guidance from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as feedback from parents and educators to determine how best to advise the state's more than 80 districts, officials said.
Brown said education department officials expect to have recommendations from the task force by about the middle of June so it can put those plans forward for public comment and begin to engage parents.
What parents and educators are saying about the next school year in SC
The department has already begun getting feedback through focus groups made of parents and educators. Those groups have found most parents and educators want kids back in the classroom with safety precautions in place.
"Like everything else — going out to eat, getting together with friends, going shopping, etc. — there is a desire to get back to our old routines and ways of doing things, and getting back to school is no exception," says a Department of Education report on the focus groups. "Also, like everything else, people need to feel they are getting back to normal safely. To this end, a return to school must be met with an assurance that the Department of Education is doing everything it can to minimize the risk of exposure."
The findings seem to reflect what parents and educators said in surveys conducted by The News.
In a survey designed for Greenville County parents that drew nearly 2,900 responses in about four days, 68.5% said they'd like school to return to normal in-person instruction in the fall.
Shannon Cox, parent of a rising fourth-grader, said she didn't feel e-learning would be a good option. She said she wants her son back in the classroom because he thrives in settings with peers.
"He needs to be engaged with his teacher and peers to learn new material, learn to socialize appropriately, and be more active with less screen time," Cox said.
For Catherine Tabor, parent of rising second, third and fifth-graders, the concern about e-learning lies in managing tasks while she's working.
"For working parents who are not home during the day, it was impossible for my children to attend all the Google meets," Tabor said. "I feel like my children have fallen behind despite all the hours we put into their work. It's been extremely frustrating."
A survey designed for educators in Greenville County found 60.3% of nearly 370 respondents would like school to return to normal in-person instruction in the fall.
Dozens of teachers who responded said e-learning doesn't offer the same level of engagement or communication they need to effectively teach.
How can parents and educators be heard as officials make plans
The Greenville County school district is working on surveys that will be distributed to parents and educators in the coming weeks, according to Waller.
Waller said the surveys will be used much like those sent out ahead of graduation. They'll take parent and educator feedback into account in how they respond to the state education department's guidance.
The surveys will ask for information like what kind of safeguards and precautions would have to be made for parents to feel comfortable sending their kids back to school, and if they aren't comfortable sending kids back to school, what do they think would be a better plan.
"We don't want to leave teachers out of the equation," he said, "because they're the experts. They're the on the front lines. And every school... is a little bit different from another. So they they know. They might have a better idea for what could work at a particular school."
In a similar vein, the department of education is encouraging public feedback by email to email@example.com.
While Brown said the task force can't respond to every single person who emails, officials do gather the feedback into reports that help them better understand concerns. And sharing questions lets them know what kind of information they need to circulate.
Email Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org