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The SC For Ed teacher advocacy group has been encouraging teachers to wear red on Wednesdays and travel to Columbia to testify for hearings. The group is now calling for teachers to call out of work and march on the Statehouse on May 1, 2019. File/Seanna Adcox/Staff

Seven school districts and one charter school have now announced they will close their doors during a statewide teacher protest in Columbia May 1.

The following school districts have canceled classes for the day: Chester County School District, Colleton County School District, Dorchester County School District 2, Lexington-Richland School District 5, Richland County School District 1, Richland County School District 2, and Sumter County School District. Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston will also be closed.

The closures will affect a combined 123,000 students.

Richland 2, the state's fifth-largest district, announced its closure on its website Tuesday afternoon, becoming the largest district in the state to close for the protest. The Columbia-area district serves about 28,000 students.

Sumter County Schools also announced closure on Facebook Tuesday afternoon, affecting about 17,000 students.

Richland 1 serves 24,000 students in the Columbia area. It updated its website Tuesday morning with a message to parents.

“We have looked at the number of leave requests submitted across the district and determined that we would not have enough substitute teachers and staff members to cover all of those classrooms," Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said.

Another Columbia-area school district, Lexington-Richland 5, notified parents Monday afternoon. The Columbia-area district of 17,000 students is the 13th-largest in the state according to last year's student headcounts.

"Despite several contingency plans, including but not limited to utilizing substitutes and staff, the staffing needed to ensure normal school operations on May 1st could not be provided," the district said announced on its website Monday.

Colleton County Schools, which serve 5,600 students, also made their announcement Monday, citing "a profound shortage of teachers that our current pool of trained substitutes cannot fill."

Dorchester 2, which serves 26,000 students, notified its 1,600 teachers Friday afternoon that all of its schools will be closed as teachers from across the state march on the Statehouse seeking higher pay, smaller classroom sizes and full funding of the state's promises to school districts.

In an email to staff, the district said some schools already had more than half of their teachers call out of work for the rally.

"This critical shortage of staff with inadequate numbers of trained substitutes available to cover classes creates a major concern for the safety of students in a secure learning environment," the district said in a prepared statement.

"This was a difficult decision; however, the safety of students and staff is always the basis of all decisions made in Dorchester School District Two," the alert said.

The Dorchester 2 school board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Adult Education Learning Center to schedule a makeup school day.

Palmetto Scholars Academy, a public charter school in North Charleston with 500 students, also announced Friday it would be closed Wednesday.

Principal Tim Gott said the school made the decision after 18 of its 29 teachers requested the day off to protest in Columbia. He said he is considering traveling to Columbia with them.

"The real issue for us is, as a school, we’ve been trying to help kids have a voice and impact on the world. In this case, we’re putting feet to our words," Gott said.

The first school district to announce a closure was the Chester County School District, which announced it would close all of its schools on Wednesday, April 24.

Chester school board Chairwoman Anne Collins explained the decision was made for the safety of children because so many teachers had taken the day off already.

She noted she supports the teachers' efforts to make their voices heard after a year of inaction by the state Legislature.

“I’m really glad to see that teachers are taking a stand, that they are now actively saying what is best for their students. I applaud them for that,” Collins said.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, meanwhile, has discouraged teachers from taking personal leave days to protest, saying through a spokesman Thursday that "teachers leaving their classrooms sends the wrong message to students." 

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, agreed with McMaster on Twitter, tweeting, "He's right."

State lawmakers have not provided enough funding to meet the Base Student Cost, based on a 1977 funding formula, since 2009. In the past school year alone, the shortfall came out to $497 million. Neither the Senate nor the House version of next year's budget fully funds it. 

Partly as a result of funding deficiencies and a 2006 law that keeps homeowners from paying property tax toward school operations, the state has not enforced classroom size limits since 2010 and no longer follows its own law that ties teacher salaries to the Southeast regional average. 

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.

Paul Bowers is an education reporter and father of three living in North Charleston. He previously worked at the Charleston City Paper, where he was twice named South Carolina Journalist of the Year in the weekly category.