Vice President Mike Pence backs Gov. Henry McMaster's push for school reopenings

Vice President Mike Pence said South Carolina schools should reopen full-time this fall and that parents should feel safe with sending their children despite increasing COVID-19 infection, case and death rates in the state. His remarks came following his participation in a round table discussion with Gov. Henry McMaster and other state leaders about school reopening

"We think we can safely reopen schools, the risk to children is very low," Pence said. "My pledge to every parent is we're going to continue to work our hearts out to make sure that the guidance is there, the  resources is there, but we really do believe that it's possible to safely reopen our schools."

The visit from Pence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and other officials came less than a week after McMaster and Republican State House leaders urged state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to require districts to have the option of in-person instruction five days a week when school begins this fall. 

“Parents need to have a choice,” McMaster said on July 15. “They need to say to their districts whether they want their children to go in class five days a week, or whether they want to be virtual. It must be their choice.”

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman has the authority to approve or reject a district’s reopening plan. She was invited to the press conference but did not attend. The governor said he spoke with her previously about his decision, something that he can’t technically mandate due to the continuing resolution in effect.

Spearman issued a statement following the press conference saying that she supports returning to five day a week instruction, but that such a decision to do so rests with school districts. “We cannot, however turn a blind eye to the health and safety of our students and staff when the spread of the virus in some of our communities is among the highest in the world,” Spearman said in a statement. “School leaders, in consultation with public health experts, are best positioned to determine how in-person operations should be carried out to fit the needs of their local communities. I remain committed to supporting them in this endeavor and will only approve those plans that offer high quality options and keep safety as their top priority.”

As of July 19, there have been 71,213 cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina (30,420 in July alone) and 1,147 deaths. Infection rates have stayed in the high teens to low 20s for the entire month as testing has ramped up.