By Teachers, For Teachers
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A bill requiring South Carolina's school districts to teach students how to write in cursive by fifth grade advanced Tuesday in the House.
An 8-0 vote sent the bill to the full Education Committee.
The main sponsor, Rep. Dwight Loftis, contends students still need handwriting skills despite the increase in digital communications. It's not just about writing beautifully or artfully; practical uses include being able to write faster than when writing in print, he said.
"Critics say you don't need cursive writing anymore because everything is digital," but both cursive and typing should be taught, he said, adding his teenage grandson can't sign his name in cursive.
Loftis, R-Greenville, held up thank-you cards he received from high school graduates to prove students no longer know how.
State standards haven't required cursive writing in the classroom since 2008, said Dino Teppara of the state Education Department, which is not taking a stance on the bill.
It is unclear how many districts opt to teach it to elementary school students. If they do, they're funding any accompanying instructional materials and teacher training through local taxes.
The requirement ended when the state's standardized, end-of-year English test for third- through eighth-graders stopped asking open-ended questions that required writing, said Melanie Barton, director of the Education Oversight Committee.
However, research clearly shows that writing cursive stimulates the brain, she said.
The bill also states students must memorize multiplication tables by fifth grade, but teachers testified that's already required in third-grade standards, using different wording.
Another bill advanced by the subcommittee would allow schools to put up a religious display in December, such as a nativity scene, as long as a secular one is displayed as well. Or a school could display symbols of two different religions.
"If they display, for example, a nativity scene, they're required to put something else there. It may be what we call a Christmas tree, provided there's no angel or star on the top of it, because the tree is a pagan symbol," said its sponsor, Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca.
The bill, advanced on a 5-3 vote, is intended to protect districts from expensive lawsuits if they choose to have a holiday display, he said.
But Scott Price with the School Boards Association said he's concerned about the constitutionality of highlighting one religious symbol instead of a grouping of them. He also questioned the need for the bill, which also specifies that students and staff can greet each other with holiday greetings such as Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.
Also on Tuesday, the panel unanimously shelved a bill requiring districts to allow "child-friendly" ads on the exterior sides of school buses. The sponsor, Rep. Joshua Putnam, said it could raise money to buy new school buses.
The Education Department opposed it, with Teppara saying the bill shows a lack of understanding of how the state's fleet operates. Buses are shifted around the state throughout a school year to manage the mileage and age of buses within districts, he said. He also noted that a clause in the state budget prohibits it.