COLUMBIA - A House education panel is set to discuss several bills that could lead to contention among districts and parents of the Palmetto State.

If you go

What: House K-12 Education Subcommittee

Where: The Blatt Building, Room 433, at South Carolina Statehouse, 1100 Gervais St., Columbia

When: 90 minutes after the House adjourns. Session starts at noon.

The House K-12 Education Subcommittee will discuss Back to Basics in Education Act of 2013, which would add cursive writing and the memorization of multiplication tables to the list of required subjects of instruction in South Carolina's public schools.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville, but Rep. Joe Daning, R-Goose Creek, said he signed on to the bill as a co-sponsor because he believes in cursive writing and in learning the basics.

"I'm not sure where the research came that we don't need it anymore," Daning said. "I haven't seen anything supporting the discontinuing of cursive writing."

Loftis could not be reached for comment.

The issue with teaching cursive in schools is that teachers are out of time, said Frances Welch, dean of the School of Education at the College of Charleston.

"Cursive writing is one of those skills that is dropping by the wayside," said Welch, adding that's what happens when a skill that is not tested competes for time against what teachers are required to teach.

She warned that requiring that cursive be taught without increasing instructional hours in the day places teachers in a really difficult place.

"Cursive is purely a skill," Welch said. "It's not conceptual, unlike math. With math, you either have the skill or you don't."

On that note, Daning said he's also in favor of having students memorize multiplication tables because he believes kids must learn the basics first.

Charleston County School District teaches math according to the 2010 standards, which require multiplication fluency, said Cathy DeMers, K-12 Math Specialist for the district.

In the third grade, students must be able to multiply single digits, such as 9 times 9. By the fifth grade, students must fluidly multiply using the standard algorithm for multi-digit multiplication; in other words, they must be able to solve 782 times 94, for example.

"Charleston County children are memorizing their facts," DeMers said. "They will know their facts by the end of third grade."

Another of several bills being discussed Tuesday has less to do with instruction and more to do with the environment. Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, introduced a bill that would allow for school districts to educate students about "traditional winter celebrations" and for districts to display symbols associated with the holidays.

The bill says district staff and students may offer greetings regarding the celebrations including, but not limited to, Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah or Holidays. Sandifer said he doesn't agree with the idea of not allowing Christian symbols or prayers in schools.

"I'm a huge supporter of allowing those displays," Sandifer said. "It's a matter of choice."

Sandifer added that he sees nothing wrong with the display of a nativity scene, if the school can also display a menorah, for example. He said schools, however, stay away from such displays because of potential lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, said in a written message that the bill is unnecessary if its aim is to allow students to learn about different religions as part of their education. She added schools may already display holiday symbols so long as they honor different faith traditions and the views of nonbelievers.

"It is also unnecessary to legislate permission for students to say Merry Christmas, etc., as they are free to do so now," wrote Middleton, adding that having district staff offer traditional greetings does not honor the First Amendment's prohibition against government-imposed religion.

Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.