Politics & Government

SC teachers protesting May 1 are ‘walking out on their obligations,’ schools chief says

The state’s schools chief said Monday that teachers who come to Columbia on Wednesday to protest for higher pay and better working conditions are “walking out on their obligations” — a plan she cannot support.

“I support teachers using their voice to advocate for needed change and share in their commitment to ensuring reforms become reality,” said state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, a Republican. “However, 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.

The statement was the first Spearman has made about the teacher rally at the State House, announced more than a week ago.

Potentially thousands of S.C. teachers and their advocates are expected to protest Wednesday when lawmakers are in session to call for higher pay and school improvements — for example, smaller class sizes — after demands, they say, have fallen on “deaf ears.”

Teachers are set to get at least a 4% pay raise next year — more for newer teachers — through the state’s budget.

Wednesday’s protest is being organized by SCforED, a growing grassroots teachers group started a year ago.

The state’s two teachers groups — the Palmetto State Teachers Association and the S.C. Education Association — are not involved with the rally, but have offered their support for teachers who choose to take a personal day from school and march at the capitol.

Some districts and at least one charter school have decided to cancel class as the numbers of teachers asking for the day off increased.

Like Spearman, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has encouraged teachers to stay in their classrooms.

Spearman’s statement Monday said she will not join teachers at the State House. Instead, she will be a substitute teacher in a classroom.

Her spokesman Ryan Brown would not say which school or district she will be at, only that it will be in the Midlands.

“I am not doing this to help facilitate the walkout,” Spearman said Monday, “but rather to do all I can to ensure as many students as possible receive the instruction they deserve.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.