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SC lawmakers send 5-day in-person learning bill to governor

Gov. Henry McMaster, who held a news conference last week with State Education Superintendent...
Gov. Henry McMaster, who held a news conference last week with State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, doubled down Sunday on his position against moving teachers higher in the state's vaccine rollout.(WIS)
Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 11:58 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - By the time Gov. Henry McMaster signs a new bill requiring five-day in-person learning into law this week, school districts across the state will already be ready. But teachers will benefit from two other key parts of the bill.

The South Carolina House approved S.704, a Senate measure Wednesday that mandates that all South Carolina school districts offer five-day in-person instruction by Monday.

At this point, the South Carolina Department of Education says only three school districts are not offering five-day in-person learning. Those districts are Colleton County, Greenville County and Hampton School District 2.

All three of those districts plan to resume five-day in-person instruction in their schools on Monday anyway, Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said.

But two other key facets of the bill represent changes that will benefit current and retired teachers.

The first prevents “dual modality” teaching without extra compensation. That means that for teachers who are asked to teach both in-person and virtually, they will have to be compensated for the extra time they spend preparing online classes. The bill states teachers will not be allowed to teach both in-person and virtually at the same time “unless it is reasonable and necessary due to extreme and unavoidable circumstances in order to ensure that all students have access to highly qualified instructors.”

The second would allow retired teachers who return to the classroom to ease teacher shortages would be able to earn up to $50,000 per year without having to change their retirement allowance.

The bill also stipulates that all school districts must offer in-person learning next school year.

“Every family must be given the option of sending their child to school five days a week face to face and the science shows that this can be done safely in every community,” Spearman said in a statement on the bill. “I am thankful for the educators who have been making this option a reality for many throughout this school year and look forward to the Governor signing this bill into law, ensuring every school will be fully open for in-person learning now and into the future.”

The Palmetto State Teachers Association released the following statement on the bill:

Over the course of the past year, schools across South Carolina have been forced to create completely new instructional models to meet the needs of students during a generational pandemic. As Senate Education Chairman Greg Hembree has often noted, schools have been forced to “build the plane while it was in the air.” The impact of COVID-19 on our state has resulted in instructional disruption for every student in the state, making it essential to provide the highest quality instruction to every child as we recover from the pandemic. Today, the General Assembly took a critically important step in that direction with passage of S. 704.

This legislation will benefit students in three key ways. First, it ensures every family will have the option for a five-day, face-to-face instructional model for the remainder of this school year and for the entirety of next school year. The combination of safety measures in schools and increased vaccine access has made our schools increasingly safe places to learn with an educator workforce that is more stable due to the decreased need to quarantine. Second, the legislation will enable schools to make the most of federal stimulus dollars to deliver individualized instruction through hiring retired educators. These highly qualified and experienced individuals bring the expertise to schools necessary to address the effects of a year of disrupted instruction.

Finally, and most significantly, S. 704 explicitly prohibits districts from assigning teachers to a dual modality instructional situation where a teacher is responsible for simultaneously directing the learning of students that are in-class and students that are online. While the legislation wisely provides districts with the ability to use dual modality instruction in “extreme and unavoidable circumstances,” the experiences of students and teachers with this instructional model this school year have clearly shown that it should only be used in the most exceptional situations. As the largest association for professional educators in the state, PSTA has heard clearly from members that a dual modality model inhibits a teacher’s ability to meet the needs of all learners by forcing teachers to divide their attention between two groups of learners that have fundamentally different instructional needs. In addition, teachers have overwhelmingly indicated that dual modality is burning out educators. In a recent survey, 95% of our members that have been assigned to dual modality indicated it is either “far more challenging” or “more challenging” than teaching in an exclusively in-person or virtual setting. Additionally, 56% of these teachers indicated they would be more likely to leave their school if asked to teach in a dual modality model again next year.

In the midst of a teaching shortage crisis, our state must do all that it can to retain teachers, and the passage of the dual modality prohibition in S. 704 is a key step in that direction. While some families may still need a virtual learning model next year, their student deserves to have a fully dedicated virtual instructor, not a teacher trying to work with two different groups at the same time. PSTA applauds the members of the General Assembly for passing S. 704, and we look forward to continued legislative action to ensure the 2021-2022 school year addresses the needs of all learners.

McMaster is expected to sign the bill into law within the next two days.

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