10,000 teachers, supporters descend on Columbia for education rally

 

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - Thousands of teachers from across South Carolina descended on the state capital and rallied for change.

Richland County deputies estimated the crowd size at 10,000, representatives for SC for Ed, the teacher advocacy group that organized the march at the Statehouse in Columbia said. The event was supposed to end with teachers and supporters lining Gervais Street from noon until 2 p.m., but organizers told a crowd they were forced to call off that portion of the event after authorities said there were too many teachers and expressed concerns for “safety reasons.”

Teachers from the Lowcountry joined colleagues from across South Carolina for a march from the South Carolina Department of Education to the Statehouse grounds at 9:45 a.m. to demand education reform.

“We feel like the lawmakers haven’t passed any meaningful legislation yet that we’ve asked for,” Kate King, who teaches at Eugene Sires Elementary School in Dorchester District 2, says. “Our voices are continuously being silenced. And we feel like now is the time. Now is the day for us all to come together as one and voice our concerns.”

Those concerns were displayed on thousands of signs in front of the South Carolina Department of Education.

The march began at 9:45 a.m. with marchers chanting, “Where’s Molly," a reference to Education Superintendent Molly Spearman. Some teachers were angered bySpearman’s announcement that she planned to serve as a substitute teacher while teachers participated in the rally.

“I cannot support teachers walking out on their obligations to South Carolina students, families, and the thousands of hardworking bus drivers, cafeteria workers, counselors, aides, and custodial staff whose livelihoods depend on our schools being operational,” Spearman said in part. "I pledge to continue fighting to improve the opportunities and resources for all South Carolina students and teachers.”

Several speakers began addressing the crowd at 10 a.m. At one point, teacher advocacy group SC for Ed announced that the Richland County Sheriff’s Office estimated 10,000 people to be in attendance.

 

DD2 teachers attending rally hope rally will show educators are serious

Some Dorchester District Two teachers say they feel their concerns have fallen on deaf ears here at the Statehouse until Wednesday’s rally where they gathered with thousands of others from their profession to tell lawmakers enough is enough.

But it’s still unclear just what this effort will lead to. One lawmaker said it’s unlikely any kind of sweeping education reform will be passed before the end of this legislative session which is next week.

But DD2 teachers say the effort was not about walking out on their job but instead representing what matters most: their students. Teachers like Dubose Middle School’s Kathey Brennan said they hope the rally will demonstrate that educators in our state are serious about wanting change.

“If I have a kid that comes to school hungry, it is my concern. If a kid comes to school that was beat up at home, it is my concern. If I have a kid that comes to school and they’ve been bullied online by someone in school, it is my concern,” she said. “If a kid acts out in class it’s because of something that happened outside of my class and if I don’t have the resources and the small enough class sizes to reach all of my kids, it’s too easy for a kid to fall through the cracks.”

DD2 has a unique stake in the outcome of the rally because it is one of the lowest-funded districts statewide.

“Whatever we do here in Columbia in the Statehouse, it effects the classroom,” Ashley Ridge High School teacher Trever Etminan said. “So for teachers to be here and be a part of that process, that is the most important thing that could possibly be done because we’re the ones on the front lines. We’re the ones that know the interventions that will help the most. We’re the ones that know where the funding should be allocated the most because we see it every single day.”

DD2 Superintendent Joe Pye joined teachers at the rally to support the protest.

“This is a first in South Carolina or anywhere and these are the most docile group we have in the state,” he said. "These people are about kids and about relationships, they’re not about rebel-rousing but they’ve been brought to the forefront of it. If we don’t speak up now, we’ll pay the price later.”

Dorchester District 2 was the first Lowcountry school district to cancel classes ahead of the rally. Students will have to make that time up with a half day on June 7 and teachers will have to work a day on June 10.

 

Absences reported in Berkeley and Charleston county school districts

School districts in Berkeley and Charleston counties remained open on Wednesday.

Officials with the Berkeley County School District said there were 772 teacher absences and 333 Kelly Services provided substitute absences.

BCSD officials said those numbers include all sick leave and personal days off. There were 11,752 student absences in the district on Wednesday.

At the Charleston County School District, officials said as of Wednesday morning, there were 675 requests for substitutes for Wednesday including 383 personal leave requests and 152 sick leave entries.

CCSD officials said they will not have the number of students absent on Wednesday until Thursday.

 

Lack of action on key issues prompted rally

Organizers have been adamant in calling the rally an “all out,” not a “walkout." The group says the state legislature ignored a 10 percent pay raise request agreed upon by three major teacher representative entities and discarded it in favor of a lesser raise that “does not meet the minimal goal of increasing the average teacher salary in South Carolina to the Southeast average.”

They also are upset the General Assembly has not passed proposals to reduce class sizes, guarantee teachers at least a short break without students and add social workers and counselors.

Teachers made homemade signs to carry as part of their protest driving home points about class size and low pay, among other concerns that prompted Wednesday’s action.

Lowcountry teachers boarded buses and personal vehicles early Wednesday morning to be able to attend Wednesday’s rally. Two Lowcountry school districts, Dorchester District 2 and Colleton County, closed school because of the number of teachers who notified school officials they would be out of the classroom to attend the rally.

While most school districts remained open, other districts, including Chester County, Sumter County, Richland District 1 and Lexington-Richland District 5, also canceled classes.

Berkeley County and Charleston County Schools remained open,but the former still ran into controversy with its announcement.

Teachers who attend the rally don’t have much support from some of their superiors including state superintendent of education Molly Spearman,who said she will serve as a substitute teacher during the rally.

“I cannot support teachers walking out on their obligations to South Carolina students, families, and the thousands of hardworking bus drivers, cafeteria workers, counselors, aides, and custodial staff whose livelihoods depend on our schools being operational,” Spearman said in part. "I pledge to continue fighting to improve the opportunities and resources for all South Carolina students and teachers.”

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has also spoken out against teachers missing school Wednesday.

An estimated 10,000 teachers and supporters are attending Wednesday's education rally at the Statehouse in Columbia. (Source: Live 5

SC for Ed has planned out afull schedule of events for the rally, which is expected to last roughly six hours. Speakers include CNN political analyst Bakari Sellers as well as some state representatives.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association said after Wednesday’s rally,teachers, friends, and family need to continue to advocate for change.

“Our sleeping giant is starting to wake up and our teachers are starting to use their voices," Palmetto State Teacher’s Association Executive Director Kathy Maness said. “And I hope the members of the general assembly will listen because they are the experts.”

Dorchester District 2 has already announced a make-up day on June 7.

Kelly Golden

Kelly Golden

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