The commitment to reaching higher is a constant pursuit. It means going beyond being satisfied and not settling for good enough.

Safe, steady steps forward

When this pandemic struck, we were all in uncharted territory. We had to quickly absorb and adapt to how the difficulties, challenges and disruptions, that are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, would affect every aspect of our lives – including education.

Side-by-side, however, thousands of teachers, administrators, staff, students and families responded by digging in, rising to the occasion and creatively improvising, all in the name of providing the best education possible for students during the unknown. Still, no one would argue that there is a replacement for in-person, classroom instruction.

That was March 2020, and we’ve come a long way since then. As we look toward the SC fall school plan and the SC 2020-2021 school year, much has changed, which means there is even more to examine, plan for and safeguard.

Planning for a new school year, in even the most normal of circumstances, is challenging enough. Clearly, this SC 2020-2021 school year poses unique challenges and uncontrollable variables that raise questions we have never before needed to answer.

The first thing you should know is that all our focus, and every single one of our priorities, are directed toward protecting the health, safety and wellness of students and staff while giving students the best possible learning experience that is as close to normal as health and safety allow.

To help assist everyone in these efforts, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman convened AccelerateED, a task force of educators and administrators who represent all aspects of the K-12 public education system. During the task force’s first meeting on April 30, 2020, Superintendent Spearman asked members to examine challenges to school operations and student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and make recommendations for how schools and districts could best combat and overcome these obstacles to serve students and families.

After another 25 meetings, the task force drafted a document with in-depth considerations and recommendations, but only after thorough, detailed and candid conversations. The task force:

  • Worked closely with the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and referred to the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
  • Examined the science and research related to the coronavirus.
  • Sought advice from a variety of additional external experts.
  • Applied their collective expertise.

Just below we have provided options so the information that’s important to you can be found more easily. This includes a summary that highlights key excerpts from the full plan. In determining how to properly execute a re-opening plan for fall 2020-2021, we understand that these are not perfect solutions for every student, family, teacher or school district. In a pandemic, perfect solutions don’t exist.

However, despite the impossibility of projecting health conditions with any certainty, today we understand more, and we know more about how to safely operate and achieve significantly broader safety levels for everyone.

Only through a collective commitment from everyone in the state, including schools, teachers, parents, families, students, community organizations and the public/private sectors, will there be success.

School is not going to look the same regardless of what shape and form of in-class or distance learning model is adopted. Contingencies will need to be made. Acceptance and understanding will need to be universal. The discipline and habits of people will need to change.

From rural and urban communities, to working parents and families needing childcare, every district in our state is different. Each represents unique challenges to learning, scheduling and budgets. Knowing routines will be disrupted, AccelerateED designed recommendations to provide flexibility for school and district decision making that help get students at all levels back to school safely.

While the optimal learning environment for most students would be in-person instruction, we must acknowledge that what is reality now, may not be the same reality in August, nor the ideal educational model that works best throughout the year.

Right now, we live in an everchanging environment and the course of future actions depends on the course this pandemic takes. What we do know, however, is the resilience and pride South Carolinians have in their state and for their students, is an essential factor in overcoming any obstacles and challenges we face along the way. We all want our students back in school, and we can all contribute to getting back to learning, safely and comfortably.