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SC principal cancels class to protest with his teachers at the State House

Why are SC teachers fleeing at record rates? Here’s a look at the crisis by the numbers

SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.
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SC teachers are leaving the SC public school system at a rapid pace, deterred by factors from low pay to discipline issues in the classroom.

Tim Gott said it was an easy decision to make: canceling class Wednesday so his teachers can go to Columbia to protest for better working conditions.

But it wasn’t easy just because more than 20 of his 29 teachers, so far, are planning to go to Columbia, and he won’t be able to staff his charter school, Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston.

The principal says he will join his teachers at the demonstration to urge state leaders “to raise the professionalism of education.”

“If we really want to see substantial change in the educational results of the state, we have to have substantial change in how we do business,” said Gott, who said he is fully supportive of educators’ plan to protest.

The education profession tolerates a lack of support and resources not found in the private sector, he added. “In any other business or industry, no one would tolerate the level of unprofessionalism that is pushed on the system” through low teacher pay and lack of access to resources, he said.

Gott and his teachers aren’t alone. More than 2,000 people had registered to attend the rally, organized by SC for Ed, as of early Friday.

The event also has attracted attention of some 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls who have expressed in private a desire to attend, though they were encouraged by a state senator not to steal the spotlight.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced a roundtable with educators Tuesday, the day before the rally at the State House. Meanwhile, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, a Columbia Republican, is encouraging teachers to go to school — and not the protest — Wednesday.

Gott’s school is not entirely alone in canceling classes. Two S.C. school districts of more than 80 in the state — Dorchester 2 and Chester — also have announced they are canceling classes Wednesday after receiving requests for absences from teachers.

In a Facebook post, Dorchester 2 said more than half of the teachers in some of their schools have requested absences.

Other districts have said class will go on as normal, some citing concerns for students.

“Although we know that we will have teachers out that day, this is an important time of year for students and their learning,” said Lexington 1 Superintendent Greg Little in an email sent to parents.

Little continued: “Every day, students come to school to learn, but they also receive nutritious meals, social and emotional support, and other services. We also know how difficult it is for parents to make plans for childcare when we need to close schools for unexpected weather or other events. For those reasons, we plan to have a normal school day and are working to make sure our classrooms are covered.”

The decision to cancel classes comes easier for charter schools, which have their own administrative leaders who answer to school-specific governing boards instead of the larger school district boards of trustees and administrative offices.

The protest, which Gott called “unprecedented,” has put education leaders in a tough spot, having to decide whether to back teachers wanting to attend the protest or to make decisions they feel are in the best interest of students.

The S.C. Association of School Administrators, in a statement, said Friday it supports teachers’ “right to advocate for themselves and public education, and shares many of the concerns they have raised.”

But the group also said “A teacher walkout denies students access to an important instructional day during a critical time of year. Therefore, we encourage our teachers to seek other means to bring attention to these important concerns.”

Staff writer Avery G. Wilks contributed to this story.

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Jamie Self is a projects reporter writing about health care, education, criminal justice and more. An alum of The State’s politics and State House team, Jamie has won several first place awards for education and government beat reporting and has contributed to wins for political and public service journalism. @jamiemself
Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.
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