Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the most recent school district closures across the state.
At least one S.C. school district will cancel classes next Wednesday as teachers across the Palmetto State take a day off from school to rally at the State House for better pay and school improvements.
As the planned rally continued to pick up steam Thursday, Chester County School District said it will close May 1 because many teachers asked for the day off to attend.
At least 1,400 people have registered for the march, a growing number that could lead more districts to consider canceling classes or hiring more substitute teachers to fill them. And a few Democratic presidential candidates have privately expressed interest in joining the march, though a state senator advised them not to come and steal the spotlight.
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster is encouraging teachers to stay in their classrooms.
The governor “believes that teachers leaving their classrooms sends the wrong message to students, unnecessarily disrupts schools, and inconveniences their students’ working parents,” his spokesman, Brian Symmes, said.
Chester County schools would not say how many of its roughly 384 teachers asked off. But the district did say its nearly 5,300 students will make up the missed day at the end of the school year, according to Angela Bain, the district’s superintendent.
“Because many of our teachers have asked for this day as a personal day of leave, we are allowing them to take this day to advocate for public education and for their students,” Bain wrote in an email to district employees early Thursday. “With the school board and superintendent’s approval, we support our educators and their decision to exercise their collective voices.”
Teachers say the rally is necessary because their months-long demands to state lawmakers for better pay and major school improvements have fallen on deaf ears.
With the 2019 legislative session winding down, senators said Wednesday that a comprehensive education overhaul proposal — passed by the House earlier this year — has run out of time to pass and become law this year.
Teachers are slated to get at least a 4% pay raise next year, and lawmakers are working to cut down on state-required testing. But the General Assembly likely won’t pass other meaningful changes, such as proposals to reduce class sizes, which teachers argue should be a higher legislative priority.
As part of the rally, organized by SCforED, a grassroots teachers group that formed last May, teachers will march from the state’s Education Department office on Senate Street to the State House.
The state’s two teachers associations are not involved with the rally, but they offered statements of support for teachers.
“We advocate for the rights of our teachers and support our teachers right to advocate for themselves,” Palmetto State Teachers Association leader Kathy Maness told The State. And in a statement, the S.C. Education Association said the protest “reflects the frustration educators feel after years of privatization and shifting resources away from our schools and our kids.”
McMaster — who in January proposed raising teacher pay by 5% and pouring more money into rural communities to help schools — remains “steadfast in his belief” that the Legislature should send him the education bill before this year to “show the world that South Carolina is committed to remaining competitive on the global stage,” Symmes said.
So far, no Midlands school districts have announced plans to cancel school on May 1.
State Sen. Mike Fanning, a Fairfield Democrat and career-long educator, said he is “excited about something big happening Wednesday.”
He called Bain, Chester’s superintendent, “bold” for closing schools. He told The State a few 2020 Democratic presidential candidate have reached out to him about joining the march, but Fanning asked that they not come so the focus could remain on the teachers.
“This message is going to be about setting the tone for the future.”
Midlands districts respond to May 1 rally
▪ Richland 1: closing schools
▪ Richland 2: not considering closing schools.
▪ Lexington 1: not considering closing schools. The district said fewer than 50 certified teachers had requested permission to be absent. However, some of those absences could be for requests made before the rally was organized, she said.
▪ Lexington 2: not canceling classes
▪ Lexington 3: no plans to cancel classes
▪ Lexington-Richland 5: closing schools
▪ Kershaw: not considering closing schools. In a Wednesday memo shared with district employees, district Superintendent Shane Robbins said while he agrees the state is behind the curve in education and teachers’ demands are valid, he goes not agree with a walk out. “It will cause most districts, ours included, to shut down,” he wrote. “Who suffers? Most definitely our students.”
▪ Colleton: closing schools
▪ Dorchester 2: closing schools
Staff writer Jamie Self contributed to this report.