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Task force shares recommendations for reopening South Carolina schools in fall

The meeting discussed how to build contingency plans, accomodate social distancing and increase mental health support.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The AccelerateEd task force put together by the State Department of Education discussed how to safely and realistically return to school in the fall.

“Our primary focus and concern and need is to ensure safety. Step two is to clearly communicate to the public how those steps have been taken” says Patrick Kelly, Coordinator of Professional Learning for Richland School District Two.

Cleaning protocols, installing plastic guards and teachers using personal protective equipment were proposed.

Kelly says schools need to make plans now for remote learning in the fall:

“We have to be prepared for the contingency of a resurgence of COVID-19 that requires extended periods of school closures either locally or statewide. And while no one could have foreseen it in the spring of 2020, we can’t be caught off guard again.”

RELATED: AccelerateED task force talks recommendations for summer programs

The recommendations for returning to school depend on how wide-spread the virus will be in August and September.

Dr. Scott Turner, Deputy Superintendent of Greenville County Schools, says, “Some of our districts may be fully open and operational if they have low to no spread. Some district may be closed if they are a hot spot at that moment.”

Turner notes that DHEC has not released definitions of low, medium and high spread of COVID-19 but is working to do so.

RELATED: Richland One reminds parents of registration deadlines for 2020-21 school year

A big topic of the meeting was how to put social distancing protocols in place. Social distancing will affect bus rides, classroom set ups, food service, restrooms, safety drills and much more.

Turner says, “transportation is the biggest issue we face, I think, as a state right now. DHEC guidelines state the number of students on a bus should be a maximum of 50% of standard capacity appropriate for the students’ age.” These guidelines present challenges for students to get to and from school on time.

Another hot topic was psychological support for students and staff.

Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman says, “COVID-19 has been a tremendously traumatic event for all of us. Our students, faculty and community have had another traumatic event with the death of George Floyd and the racial tension that’s been brought forth.”

That’s why they are recommending schools create mental health crisis response teams comprised of counselors, special education staff, teachers, nurses and administrators.

While the task force is still finalizing recommendations for school districts, they want to remind everyone that plans will adjust throughout the school year to accommodate new challenges.

“As we approach the fall, flexibility will be essential. Education will look different than it has in the past.”

For a look at the full AccelerateED meeting, click the link here.