When thousands of educators rally Wednesday in Columbia seeking better pay and working conditions, one of the senators they’re hoping to influence will be in Myrtle Beach taking their place in the classroom.
State Sen. Greg Hembree, of Horry County, said he plans to serve as a substitute social studies teacher at Myrtle Beach Middle School during the rally, organized by SC for Ed, an educator-created advocacy group. He requested and was granted a day of leave during Senate floor remarks on Tuesday.
Hembree, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he contacted Horry County Schools because he figured they’d need the extra help, and being in the classroom will help him better do his job. He’s never been a substitute teacher before, but he’s completed orientation, he said.
Kendra Pennington, an Horry County SC for Ed representative in her fourth year at Myrtle Beach Middle School, said she’s expecting at most about 200 educators from the district to be in Columbia on Wednesday based on conversations she’s had with fellow teachers.
Hembree, who has been trying to push through an education reform bill this session, is critical of the rally and said he doesn’t feel the need to be there because he’s already had numerous conversations with educators across the state, including those serving on the SC for Ed board.
“It’s just a labor rally,” he said. “What’s there to see? … It doesn’t help me craft policy or advance it in the General Assembly.”
SC for Ed members have expressed a desire to delay the bill while requesting smaller class sizes, more mental health professionals and 10 percent staff raises.
“The vexing part is, a lot of what they’re asking for, we’ve included in the reform bill,” Hembree said. “They say we’re not listening, but that’s all we’ve been doing.”
Hembree was also critical of the timing of the rally, pointing out that he didn’t see any teachers at the Statehouse during spring break, April 15-19, when legislators were in the midst of budget debates.
“This is such a bad time for them to leave the classrooms,” he said. “It puts an awful lot of pressure on the districts.”
Several school districts, including Richland 1, announced closures Wednesday due to planned teacher absences, but Horry County Schools, with more than 1,200 active substitutes, will remain open, according to district spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.