As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and state of emergency declared by Governor Henry McMaster, South Carolina school facilities were closed for in-person instruction from March 16, 2020, to the end of the 2019–2020 school year. During this time, students, families, and educators across South Carolina have experienced an unprecedented disruption to learning, teaching, and daily life. While educators, parents, guardians, and caregivers across the state have partnered together to develop and deploy an incredible array of resources to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students, it is undeniable that things have been lost – from learning, to moments, to the daily relationships and interactions that give so many students in South Carolina a sense of safety and wellbeing.
As we move into the 2020–21 school year, our state’s education system will continue to face extraordinary, new challenges that will require unprecedented levels of cooperation and coordination among students, families, staff, and school communities.
To assist schools and districts in these efforts, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman convened AccelerateED, a task force composed of educators and administrators representing all aspects of the K–12 public education system. In the task force’s first meeting on April 30, 2020, Superintendent Spearman charged the members with studying barriers to school operations and student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and providing recommendations on how schools and districts can best meet the needs of struggling learners in the summer and restart the state’s public education system in the fall. On May 26, 2020, AccelerateED released its first report with recommendations for how to proceed with summer learning activities. The task force then turned its full attention to the start of the 2020–21 school year, and as a result of twenty-five meetings, put forth the considerations and recommendations outlined within this document.
In making these recommendations, AccelerateED addressed school operations in the current pandemic environment with the guiding principles of first protecting the health and safety of our students, staff, and families and second fostering teaching and learning in an environment that is as close to normal as the first principle allows. Recommendations and guidance are organized into four phases: Immediate Actions, Summer Planning and Preparation, Pre Opening, and Reopening and Continuity of Operations. Within each phase, recommendations are broken down by traditional district operational areas.
The conditions, current public health landscape, and growing body of knowledge surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve. This reality presents challenges to planning, preparing, and guiding school operations. The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) will continue to coordinate with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and other relevant governing bodies to provide guidance and best practices to districts to inform their decision making for reopening schools and ensuring a successful 2020–21 school year.
Districts and schools are encouraged to communicate with local authorities and always adhere to the most recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DHEC. This guidance is not mandated nor state required. Local school districts continue to have the authority and flexibility to address their individual needs and be responsive to their local communities.
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