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SC superintendent urges in-person learning for 'students who need it the most'

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Molly Spearman mask.jpg (copy)

State Superintendent Molly Spearman visits Matilda F. Dunston Elementary School on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in North Charleston. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman is pressuring local school districts to offer traditional, in-person learning for what she says are some of the state's most vulnerable students.

In a letter to school district leaders Wednesday, Spearman encouraged schools to return to face-to-face instruction five days a week for "students who need it the most."

Her letter covers all kindergarten through fifth grade students, those with special needs, English learners, students who are homeless or in foster care, students who are "academically delayed,"  and those with poor internet connection at home.

"These student populations encompass those who are learning the integral building blocks of their educational futures, including the fundamentals of reading, which simply cannot be taught well virtually as well as those that rely on our public school system for wrap-around and supplemental supports," she said. 

The start of the 2020-21 school year hasn't been easy for some families.

Only 20 percent of the Palmetto State's 81 school districts opted to offer students the option to enroll in a full week of in-person learning as schools reopened.

Fourteen districts started students entirely online. 

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While some children are able to successfully navigate the challenges of online coursework, Spearman said, "others are struggling and desperately need a return to face to face learning as quickly as possible."

Spearman's memo, which was sent to all superintendents across the state, is not a formal mandate, an authority she does not have. Local school districts and their governing boards hold the power to make individual decisions surrounding when to reopen classrooms and how they do so. 

Around 25 percent of Charleston County students started the school year in-person last week. School leaders are finalizing plans to bring more than 8,600 additional students back to the classroom in person by Oct. 1 after they started the school year virtually. 

The decision has sparked concerns from some teachers and parents who say they fear that the district is bringing additional students back too quickly. 

Spearman's memo noted that many community members have expressed concern over the high rate of virus activity in some counties as defined by weekly reports published by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"While these reports are important decision making tools, we cannot make all operational decisions based on any one document," Spearman wrote.

Districts need to also to consider factors including the preferences of parents and faculty members, as well as the availability of personal protective equipment and supplies. 

Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif.

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