By John Haughey
(The Center Square) – Gov. Henry McMaster signed a joint resolution Thursday that requires South Carolina schools to offer in-person classes five days week next school year and through what remains of this school year, starting Monday.
The House approved Senate Resolution 704 in a 110-0 vote Wednesday, sending it to the governor’s desk. The Senate passed it Tuesday, 42-0.
The resolution requires all school districts throughout the state to offer five days of in-person instruction to their students beginning Monday.
Only three of 79 public school districts across South Carolina don’t have a five-day in-person teaching option, but the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDOE) said it is fielding an array of questions from school officials about the order.
Among the questions is clarification on the resolution’s requirement that districts pay teachers more next school year if they have them directly teaching students who are in person and those online at the same time.
The resolution passed by the Senate allows simultaneous instruction only in “extreme and unavoidable circumstances” and requires paying teachers extra when that happens.
The House initially amended the resolution, stripping it of that prohibition. Republican leaders insisted the removal was over technical wording and a compromise with senators over “dual modality” was in the resolution McMaster signed into law.
The provision is an attempt by lawmakers to incentivize in-person instruction and is supported by the Palmetto State Teachers Association (PSTA), which maintains forcing teachers to simultaneously work before in-person students and those online degrades the experience for all.
“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,” the PSTA said in a statement.
The resolution also would allow retired state teachers to earn up to $50,000 in filling COVID-19-related staffing shortages without affecting their retirement benefits.
When the Senate adopted the original version of the resolution April 14 on a 106-7 vote, 92% of South Carolina’s 1,261 K-12 public schools offered a full return to the classroom, while 96 schools provided a weekly mix of in-person and virtual learning and one school was operating fully online, according to the SCDOE.
The department said in mid-April that 72 of the state’s 79 school districts already provided a full-week option while four others – Florence 3 in Lake City, Lexington 1, and Orangeburg and Sumter counties – planned to offer full in-person instruction five days a week by April 19.
Rural Hampton 2 planned to transition to full return Monday, Colleton County was set to do so May 3 and Greenville County, where all but high schoolers have five-day in-person instruction options, had not planned to do so this school year, but spokesman Tim Waller told The State it now will.
The bill originally called for schools to return to full service with five-days-a-week, in-person instruction by April 12 but did not advance until after lawmakers returned from their Easter Break in early April.
The measure never was opposed in the South Carolina Legislature, drawing unanimous votes after teachers’ concerns were quelled with the “double duty” prohibition.
“I think there is significant support across party lines to get children back in school as soon as possible,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said in March.
“All of us recognize the significant loss of children not being in school,” he said. “All of us have seen or heard from constituents about the insufficiency of long-term online learning for children, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.”
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.