Aiken County Public Schools' teachers and staff who want to attend a rally for education reform at the Statehouse in Columbia on Wednesday will need to use personal days for the time off.
Also, S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said in a statement Monday she will not participate in the planned walkout.
SC for Ed, an online advocacy group for state educators, is calling for teachers to take a day off from school Wednesday for a march on the Statehouse, according to the Associated Press. More than 1,000 teachers have signed an online pledge, saying they will wear red and converge on the capitol.
The march and rally is in response to an education reform bill that has been a focus of the state legislature this session.
“Aiken County Public Schools' board and leadership honor the rights of employees to respectfully advocate for causes of importance to them,” according to a statement from the Aiken County Public School District.
“Our responsibility is to ensure that schools are open and operating in accordance with the law, as well as ensuring that instructional time is protected for students during this critical time of year. With that being said, teachers and staff may use personal days for any manner they see fit, in accordance with policy.
“Aiken County's teachers and employees are ONE TEAM dedicated to doing what is best every day, including May 1, for those in the classrooms and communities they serve.”
In her statement, Spearman said, "I became a teacher because I love and believe in education and the needs of my students always came first. Now, as state superintendent, my first responsibility and top priority is to the nearly 800,000 students of our state.
“That is why on May 1, I will not be joining those teachers who decide to walk out on their classrooms. Instead, I will be walking into the classroom of an absent teacher to serve as a substitute. I am not doing this to help facilitate the walkout but rather to do all I can to ensure as many students as possible receive the instruction they deserve.”
Spearman said she supports “teachers using their voice to advocate for needed change and share in their commitment to ensuring reforms become reality. 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.
“I pledge to continue fighting to improve the opportunities and resources for all South Carolina students and teachers."
The S.C. House passed a bill in March, giving the state education superintendent more ability to take over low-performing school districts, creating a $100 million fund to help bring businesses to places where schools are poor and struggling, and created a student “bill of rights” as well as a new Zero to Twenty Committee that would oversee education from pre-kindergarten to universities.
But teachers mobilized online against the proposal almost immediately, saying House Speaker Jay Lucas and other leaders did not listen to them, according to the Associated Press. They wanted a 10 percent raise, smaller class sizes, a guaranteed 30-minute break to eat lunch and use the bathroom away from children, and more counselors and other support staff.
At its meeting April 23, the Aiken County School Board approved on first reading a 4 percent cost-of-living increase for all district employees. Eligible faculty and staff also would receive step increases based on years of experience.
“While deliberations are ongoing in Columbia, Aiken County Public School's local budget received first reading approval this week and is favorable to our teachers and schools, with at least a 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment and many requested additions of staff to support schools,” according to the district's statement.
The S.C. Senate trimmed more than 30 pages from the House proposal, eliminating the new oversight committee, the student bill of rights and tax incentives for businesses that gave teachers summer internships.
At the April 23 School Board meeting, board member Rosemary English, presenting a legislative update, said the senate version of the bill likely would not receive the required three readings before the regular state legislative session ends May 9.
Because 2019 is the first of a two-year legislative session in South Carolina, the bill would pick up in January wherever it finishes this session.
North Carolina teachers are holding a walkout rally the same day, and similar rallies have been held in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia with at least moderate success, according to the Associated Press.
The Chester County School District in north-central South Carolina will close Wednesday because so many teachers asked for personal days to attend the rally in Columbia, according to its website. The district, with about 5,300 students and 800 full- and part-time employees, will make the day up at the end of the school year.