COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - State Superintendent Molly Spearman says she understands the fears teachers and staff have surrounding returning to in-person learning, but teachers need to return to the classroom.
“We can no longer defend schools not offering a face-to-face option for families,” Spearman said.
She noted that the state has spent about $100 million dollars on personal protective equipment, plexiglass dividers, and other tools to guarantee safety for teachers, students, and staff.
“There’s a lot of money flowing, and I would say that again to the teacher groups who are so worried about going back to school. Look at all at what we’ve done to make the classroom safe and try it out. I know there is a lot of fear, but fear shouldn’t be a determining factor here,” she said.
Spearman points to a recent CDC study saying that schools are safe for students and staff if all necessary COVID-19 precautions are taken.
She also notes a recent study from the Medical University of South Carolina found there’s been no surge in COVID-19 cases among Charleston County schools where safety measures were in place.
Spearman is also concerned about declining mental health among students and hopes the socialization that comes with in-person learning will help. She is so certain classes are safe that she would feel comfortable teaching in a South Carolina school if she was called to return to her previous position. However, she is still fighting for teachers and school staff to be further prioritized to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to reduce the risk to educators.
“I believe that teachers deserve to be up at the front of the line there because of the impact that having school has for our students and for families across South Carolina,” Spearman said. “I think the obstacle right now is just getting enough vaccine, and we are giving data to the governor’s office to help them in their decision making.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education specified the superintendent’s office has shared with the governor how many school staff would be interested in receiving the vaccine and provided them with more information on local partnerships between hospitals and school districts.
“I’m optimistic, but I know that they, too, are just dealing with getting enough vaccines into South Carolina,” Spearman said.
However, Spearman said she does not support adding additional testing to further assess how students are doing while learning in these chaotic times.
In the State House, lawmakers are debating a bill that would require students to take federally-required standardized tests during the spring.
Lawmakers in support of the bill say it will help assess how students in South Carolina are doing, but Spearman fears this set of tests won’t be informative and will instead be extra time students are spending away from their regular studies.
Instead, she is advocating using the tests that happen every year in the spring semester to assess students.
“They are already giving them,” she said of the tests she wants to be used. “They are not generally used for our accountability system because it’s just information that’s kept in the district. I’m saying just send us the information that you get from that. Do it again in the spring, which most [districts] are going to do. And...we can use that data and teachers can use that data. They like that data much better. It gives them immediate information that they can inform on instruction.”
South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East responded to Spearman’s comments and supports not adding this additional testing to the curriculum, testing Spearman has already asked the Biden administration to waive. East added she knows children learn best face-to-face, but all teachers who want a vaccine should be given the opportunity before that happens.