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Education guidelines call for state stockpile of PPE, distance learning protocol

Education
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In conjunction with the release of AccelerateED’s final draft report Friday, S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said she expects students and school faculty who can wear a mask to wear a mask.

“If we want to keep schools open, if we want to get back to a more normal life, we have to maintain social distancing, and we have to wear masks when we’re out in public. You will see that DHEC (the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control) and the Department of Education will set an expectation for mask wearing among school communities,” Spearman said during a virtual meeting.

The draft (.pdf), made official today at 2:30 p.m. after feedback from 25 task force meetings and 2,000 public comments, calls for Health and Safety Infrastructure Grants to install social distancing infrastructure like Plexiglas dividers and new HVAC systems, as well as a state stockpile of personal protective equipment. The report says that cloth face masks for teachers have already been provided by the S.C. Department of Administration but those masks fall short of performance requirements. Face shields present a more viable solution for teachers, according to the report.

“Will it be required for all? No, because there are some folks, some children who should not wear masks, but certainly, we need to press on our faculty and our parents that one way to hold down the spread is to wear masks,” Spearman said.

Recommendations also called for general districtwide task forces and mental health crisis response teams, nurses in the 166 schools around the state that don’t already have full-time access to medical help and the creation of qualifying criteria and digital services for families pursuing homebound learning options. A distance learning contingency plan should be in place at all districts by the beginning of the school year, according to the report.

The report cited a national survey from May 26 by USA Today noting that 30% of students were “very likely” to tap into homebased learning options even if schools reopen. Suggested alterations to the school calendar included yearlong learning with two-week breaks, an extended winter break, scheduled distance learning practice days and semester-by-semester planning.

The task force suggested that Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding could be used for preparation days at the start of the upcoming school year, to help students and teachers prepare for the year ahead and to mitigate the impact of the summer slump and COVID-19. Other recommendations include allocations for extended learning resources such as a lengthened school day, after-hour literacy programs and additional time for reading and math exercises.

“We will use that funding very wisely to impact student achievement and student social and emotional support,” Spearman said of the Cares Act funding.

The report discusses three models based on COVID-19 infection rates come August. Only low infection rates merit a return to “traditional” scheduling, according to the report, and even then class size caps established by state health agencies, minimized class transitions and other social distancing measures should be put in place.

Given “a period of medium spread of COVID-19 in the area,” “hybrid scheduling” would prioritize Pre-K and elementary students and others in need of a “hands-on” learning experience for in-person education, while others may make use of distance learning or make use of a split schedule. High spread of the virus would launch a full distance learning scenario similar to the spring 2020 school year.

E-learning-dependent plans rely on updates to “learning management systems” among other investments in distance-learning infrastructure.

“We are in the process right now of making an RFP (request for proposal) to make a purchase for a repository — there are different types of LMS — but a repository where we would be able to move into a more efficient and higher quality distance learning plan for all. That is in the works right now,” Spearman said.

Reach Molly Hulsey at 864-720-1223.

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