Professional teachers in Horry County Schools are charged by district policy with the responsibility to look out for students’ welfare.
I was concerned about a serious matter related to students and their instruction, so I attempted to contact the appropriate authorities during my planning time on March 6. At 11 p.m. that night, Superintendent Cynthia Elsberry wrote to the media and board of education that I was “conducting personal business” while I was “being paid to perform” my “duties as a teacher.” She stated that “during this window of time” that I “was supposed to be planning instruction for my students.”
Was I not fulfilling my responsibility? Does not a professional take care of professional matters during the time in which he is paid to be a professional and not just his personal time? In light of these facts, Horry County Schools has an obligation to make public that professional teachers, as long as they are not being negligent in the performance of their other duties, do have the right and responsibility to be public advocates for students’ welfare with appropriate audiences during their professional day.
I did not ask my immediate supervisor for permission to contact the appropriate authorities because this was not an issue involving my school alone. In addition, this was not a personnel or personal issue. It was a professional matter which demanded that I contact the lowest level authorities who had the power to intervene on behalf of students and their instruction – the Horry County Board of Education.
I did not take this matter to the superintendent because she is not given the power by the board to act on my concern. The board of education gives her the authority to make decisions about students and their instruction, without board approval.
My concern is that the superintendent is authorized to make decisions about students and their welfare without parents’, teachers’, and other citizens’ representative input. Input is only advisory in nature. No vote is taken. This violates the fundamental principle of our country that government should be “of the people, by the people, and for the people” through the “consent of the governed.”
The public is not allowed to be involved, in a formal way, in the development of district policy related to student welfare, instruction, curriculum, personnel, financial matters and district operations because our district eliminated traditional standing committees such as curriculum, budget, finance, operations, and audit in 2000.
The public can only speak to the board or the superintendent about their concerns in an advisory capacity. Parents are at the mercy of the superintendent when it comes to the well-being of their children. Teachers rarely challenge for fear of retaliation.
For 13 years, no citizen of Horry County has been given the right to vote on these issues through their board representatives.
Since Dr. Elsberry chose to respond to my actions in a public way, this is not a matter for formal grievance under district policy. The only proper response is a public one. She impugned my professionalism and activities with some who have the potential of contacting many, casting my reputation in a highly negative light. By e-mailing media and the board of education, she chose inappropriate audiences for a matter which should have been dealt with discreetly, in a professional manner, through district policy. I have every right to defend my reputation in a public manner, so I have chosen to use every public medium possible. My job and reputation are on the line.
I expect the school board to act on my concerns for the good of the public.
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach.