As thousands of teachers protested in Columbia demanding better pay and working conditions, many in Charleston and Berkeley counties' public schools showed support for the cause, too.

Unlike Dorchester District 2, which closed all its schools Wednesday and freed up teachers and students to attend the protest, the Charleston area's two largest districts held classes as usual. But it wasn't just another day.

Many teachers and students wore red to school, while parents and school board members sponsored meals and even transportation to the rally. In less than 24 hours, parents, fellow teachers and at least one Charleston County school board member raised more than $1,000 for a charter bus to Columbia.

Kat Low, a physics teacher at Hanahan High School in Berkeley County, was one of more than 50 teachers who climbed onto that bus outside North Charleston City Hall early Wednesday morning.

"People reaching into their pockets — they're telling you something," Low said.

Charleston County School Board member Kevin Hollinshead was there to see teachers off. He said he helped organize the charter bus and believes teacher salaries should be raised to stay competitive with Atlanta, where he said many Charleston area teachers go in search of better pay.

The Charleston County School District received 675 substitute teacher requests for the day, 383 of which were personal leave requests, school district spokesperson Andy Pruitt said.

The district employs about 3,500 teachers, so roughly 19 percent of teachers requested substitutes, mostly for personal leave requests.

Pruitt said the district was unable to estimate the number of student absences because substitute teachers are not authorized to enter absence data into the district's database.

The district declined The Post and Courier's request to visit county schools Wednesday, but Pruitt said the day "ran very smoothly" with an "all hands on deck approach."

Berkeley County School District had 772 teacher absences, district spokesperson Katie Tanner said.

Those reported absences included all sick, personal, legal and bereavement leave. The district employs 2,505 teachers, meaning roughly 31 percent of teachers were absent.

Tanner said 11,752 of the district's 36,037 students were absent Wednesday, about 33 percent.

There were 22 teacher reported absences at Foxbank Elementary School in Berkeley County, principal Natalie Lockliear said, but that number includes teachers on medical or maternity leave. Special area classes like music, physical education and art were cancelled.

Many teachers and support staff who showed up for work wore red shirts. Foxbank was able to fill voids in 16 classrooms by using substitutes from Kelly Educational Staffing and volunteers from the Moncks Corner Recreation Department.

Moncks Corner Recreation Department director Becky Ellison, a former 8th grade school teacher at Summerville's Northwood Academy, volunteered to help. From the town's perspective, she said, Foxbank Elementary School students are also the town's children.

"I volunteered today to support the teachers," Ellison said. "It's an important day for education in South Carolina, and we wanted to be part of it."

Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Eddie Ingram, wore a red tie as he talked to Hanahan High School students about the difference between doing things right and doing the right thing.

He told students that his appearance in the classroom was not a publicity stunt. He said he was filling in for a teacher who had jury duty, and he believed there were four teachers absent from the high school Wednesday — not entirely unusual.

talk wide berkeley supt ingram.jpg

Tenth grade honors history students linger after class at Hanahan High School where Berkeley County School District Superintendent Eddie Ingram taught on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Central Services staffers stepped back into the classroom — along with substitute teachers — to allow other district teachers to attend the statewide teachers’ protest in Columbia. Wade Spees/Staff

"Our board, we do support our teachers and we wanted to have as many teachers that felt compelled and needed to go that we would help them if they needed to go," Ingram said. "But I also have an obligation, a higher calling to our kids and I thought I had an obligation to keep school open today."

Ingram said the school district's human resources department worked all weekend to create a manageable schedule Wednesday.

"I certainly support our teachers and their right for free speech and I certainly think teachers are underpaid and need to be paid more," Ingram said. "I'm a staunch critic of standardized testing because I don't think it really leads to anything in life except whether or not you're good at passing a standardized test or not." 

Ingram said he is "apolitical" but as a former teacher himself, he worked a second job for many years to make ends meet.

Some parents, including Lindsey Henderson from James Island, kept their children home from school.

"I was hoping that if I was able to take out my children, if there were combined classrooms or substitute teachers, it would help for those covering for everyone else," Henderson, a mother to a third grader and kindergartener at Stiles Point Elementary, said.

Henderson said she "wholeheartedly" supports the teachers who rallied at the Capitol.

"It's a last resort, it's unfortunate it had to happen," Henderson said. "Hopefully it's big enough to be impactful and make a big impact on education reform."

Margie Mead Jackson's two daughters, a sixth grader at Thomas Cairo Middle School and a senior at Wando High School, went to school Wednesday.

"Education has become corporate, for profit and data driven," Jackson said. "Data does not prove a teacher's worth. It does not prove a child's worth at all. Our kids go to school for 180 days a year and about 60 days are used teaching to the test. Teachers have no more autonomy or creativity, they're just inundated with paperwork at all times."

Jackson said her oldest daughter Sarah, 17, was particularly moved by the day's events.

"My daughter sent me a text and said that today has been so incredible and emotional because she wants to be a teacher. She said it's so emotional because she walks down the hall and all she sees is kids wearing red," Jackson said. "She's seeing her former teachers go up to Columbia to fight essentially for her to do what she wants to do."

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Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

Mikaela Porter joined The Post and Courier in April 2019 and writes about the city of Charleston. Previously, Mikaela reported on breaking news, local government, school issues and community happenings for The Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn.