It is without hesitation that we offer our belief that public school teachers deserve more respect -- and the compensation to go with it -- than they do currently.
Wednesday, up to 10,000 people, including between 4,000 to 7,000 teachers, from around the state converged on the S.C. State House to rally for better working conditions, smaller class sizes, higher teacher pay and protection from retaliation if they speak out about education system issues.
We are especially sympathetic to that last point. The ability to speak freely without fear of retaliation is a fundamental part of this country’s founding and enshrined in the Constitution.
We will also point out that S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman described teachers participating in Wednesday’s rally as “walking out on their obligations.” We took this as chilling talk against another First Amendment right: the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Some students and parents joined teachers at the rally.
That was made possible thanks to seven school districts that decided to close schools for the day in order to allow their teachers to express themselves. The Kershaw County School District (KCSD) decided not to do this. Although KCSD Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins said in a memo sent to employees, students and families on Tuesday that he shared concerns on the issues being addressed and admits the legislative process “seems painfully slow,” he also felt it was important to maintain a “normally structured schoolday” for students, their parents and families.
He also listed a number of positives accomplished during the current legislative session for teachers and students. For example, legislators raised the starting salary for first year teachers and have provided a 4 percent salary increase for other teachers.
What the legislature hasn’t done this year is increase the base student cost nor met that formula for years, costing local school districts millions of dollars.
We understand where Robbins is coming from: closing the district would mean the need to make that time up somewhere, somehow. However, Robbins’ memo did not specifically outline any alternative for teachers wanting to attend the rally, so they had to use personal days, or part of one, to go, in effect penalizing them for rallying.
Others showed their support on social media, including a few teachers who pointed out that attending the rally or not provided chances for critical thinking by students about what needs to be changed in South Carolina’s educational system and how they can be advocates for that change.
To be blunt, we’re lucky teachers only staged a rally rather than a strike -- which could still happen if things don’t change. It has happened in other states; there is no reason to think it wouldn’t happen here.
As a private, for-profit company, we do not advocate walking off the job or striking. However, being a public school teacher is different, working for the government. So, do we want to see teachers strike? No, but we also can’t say that we would be surprised if they did.
Teachers are the people who most show our children and grandchildren the way to being productive citizens. Frankly, they should be paid top dollar and be free to advocate for themselves at any time.