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Local district closes as Colleton teachers walk in Columbia

Teachers in Colleton County who have decided to not teach on Wednesday and instead participate in the statewide march say they are not walking out on their students, but are instead marching for their students and for the betterment of the district.
“We are not going to school and then walking out on our students. We are taking allotted and allowable time off that we have earned to walk for our students and to have more benefits that we deserve,” said Tiffany Pearson, a longtime teacher at Colleton County Middle School. The 36-year-old educator has been teaching in the Colleton County School District since 2005. “It’s a march for our students. I love my community and I love my students. I’m proud to be an educator in this district, and I believe Colleton County School District leaders are doing the best they can. But we are asking the state to provide our district and other districts with more resources.”
The walk is a statewide march organized by teachers. It is happening on May 1st in the state’s capital of Columbia. Because of the anticipated large amount of teacher absences, Colleton County School District is closing. One other neighboring school district – Dorchester District II – has also chosen to close. However, other districts, such as Charleston County and Berkeley County, are choosing to stay open.
The Colleton County School Board held a special-called meeting on Tuesday to discuss ways to make up the lost day of instruction time for students prior to the school’s year end. That meeting occurred after this newspaper’s deadline: updates from that meeting will be posted on this newspaper’s social media sites. Meanwhile, the state’s chief educator – S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman – has publicly announced she will not be attending the rally. Instead, she is substituting in a class who is vacant their teacher. Spearman has publicly condemned the walk-out, saying it is causing children to miss their teachers and a day of needed instruction.
Colleton County School Board Member William Bowman also has publicly denounced the march on social media, saying teachers who are leaving their classrooms to march are choosing to not educate their local students, which is their core responsibility.
Pearson says she disagrees with this mentality.
“We are walking for our children, our students,” she said. Pearson and other teachers in Colleton County and throughout the state are using the march to ask for a 10-percent raise in pay. They are also asking for more mental health counselors to be provided in schools, more designated breaks during the day and smaller classroom sizes, she said.
“A lot of people think we are being greedy. That is simply not true. We are asking for a raise, but we are also asking for smaller class sizes,” she said. “The state has allowed teachers a 4-percent raise, but with that amount comes higher insurance costs so it wipes it out. We are asking for a 10-percent raise.
“As for the smaller class sizes, when you have 35-plus students in a class, and they are all learning at different levels, you aren’t really able to educate,” she said. “You can’t teach.”
Prior to the district’s announcement that school will be closed in Colleton on May 1, Colleton County Superintendent Dr. Franklin Foster emailed teachers in the district, telling them to use their earned paid-time-off to attend the march in Columbia.
“I was impressed by Dr. Foster,” said Pearson. “He supports us. And I am impressed with the Colleton School District. We have a good amount of mental health counselors in our district, but other districts in our state do not. And this is about fairness for everyone.”
When asked about the requested breaks in the day, Pearson said teachers are asking for more “duty-free” time. According to her, allotted planning periods every day are consumed with teacher-parent meetings, phone calls, meetings about children who are on an IEP, or special learning plan, and classroom planning. This time is also used for required ongoing learning, she said.
The teachers’ requests for more “duty-free” time in the day would allow them to have a break in the day without watching children. This would include lunch or bathroom time, she said.
“This is also about ongoing teacher shortages in our state,” she said. “To get more teachers, we need to fix the problems that we are facing.
“This is not an attack on our district. It’s us asking for our district to be given what they need to be more successful.”
For more information on the march or for teacher advocacy or for information on the state’s ongoing legislative reactions to teacher union requests, visit www.ed.sc.gov. or follow the “SCfor Ed” movement via social media.

Heather Walters (1670 Posts)