Virus Outbreak South Carolina

South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, left, addresses the initial gathering of AccelerateSC, a group tasked with advising Gov. Henry McMaster, right, on safely scaling the state's economy back up amid the new coronavirus outbreak on April 23 in Columbia.

The first virtual meeting for AccelerateED, a task force created to tackle impacts of the coronavirus on the public school system, was held via video conference April 30. 

S.C. State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, who created the task force, said the group's "first task" should be reviewing any challenges and generating ideas for possible protocols for the state's summer reading programs. 

One suggestion given by the task force – which is comprised of 12 educators – is to create a framework that focuses on students in kindergarten through third grade and provides instruction on English language arts, literacy and math. 

A four-week summer math camp and summer reading camp is one suggested option, and would be offered face-to-face or virtually, depending on how extensive the pandemic is through the summer.

The students who may be in need of these programs were previously identified before schools closed due to coronavirus, one teacher said. However, these students may also need intervention in the fall in order to keep up with state standards.

This is mostly due to obstacles in virtual learning, which the panel agreed requires two things aside from a stable internet connection: a responsible adult in the home and a certain level of technical expertise. 

An emphasis has been placed on third grade by teachers and administrators because of the importance of the reading skills learned during third grade. According to Spearman, students who do not "catch up" to the basic curriculum and standard by third grade tend to not excel in their academic careers.  

One panel member said the state could "lose this generation" if summer programs do not make up for the education gap some families have experienced due to coronavirus shutdowns. 

Other general concerns presented to Spearman for consideration by the panel were: increased cleaning of the schools in the fall, the possible difficulties of social distancing in classrooms during summer programs and funding issues with adding extra days to the school year calendar and summer programs for 2020-2021. 

A general consensus was given that summer programs should be pushed back from June to July due to the continuing spread of COVID-19. During the summer programs, an emphasis will also be placed on flexibility to allow school districts – which have different classrooms, class sizes, and resources across the state – to implement social distancing within their summer programs as easily as possible. 

Teachers were also warned that supply shortages for classrooms may be incoming, as certain ports in the state have been closed or had limited traffic.  

AccelerateED will host more virtual meetings in the coming weeks to tackle the state's coronavirus education impacts. These meetings will be live streamed at ed.sc.gov

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.