You’ve heard all about how the teacher unions are keeping kids locked out of school, despite CDC guidelines that say it’s safe to open the classrooms and doctors saying how much students need to be back in school: you know, all the scientific evidence that unions — and teachers — were insisting we abide by back when they agreed with it.
And depending on what sort of media sources you frequent when you’re not reading the newspaper, you might be inundated about how awful those unions are.
We agree that there's no good reason to keep locking kids out of the classroom — and there hasn't been for months. That’s one reason we think it’s important to remind readers that we don’t have teachers’ unions in South Carolina.
We do have an upstart group that clearly wants to be a union, a group whose leaders make a lot of loud union-like noises about how dangerous it is to open the schools. But such sentiments always have been in the minority in South Carolina.
Overwhelmingly, S.C. teachers are just like the rest of us — except tasked with a much more difficult job than many of us: They are committed first and foremost to what’s best for our kids, and they understand that while we all risk our health when we venture outside the safety of our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, classrooms are much safer than most places we go.
This idea was driven home last week, when the S.C. Senate passed legislation requiring all schools to return to five-day-a-week classes by April 12.
The legislation won’t make nearly as much difference as a similar measure would have earlier, since Greenville County is currently South Carolina's only large school district that doesn’t plan to have all students back by April 12 and is one of only four districts that hadn’t already planned to allow all students back into the classroom within a week of that date.
But what’s important for the sake of this conversation is less the effect than the reaction: The state’s largest teacher organization applauded the legislation. That’s right, applauded it.
Granted, the thing that Palmetto State Teachers Association likes most about S.704 is that it prohibits schools from requiring teachers to provide simultaneous in-person and online teaching next school year unless "dual-modality instruction" is necessary due to “unavoidable circumstances” and unless teachers get extra pay for the extra work — which is a sensible way to handle the matter.
The association probably also likes the part of the bill that allows retired teachers to return to the classroom without losing retirement pay — which makes sense as long as it is a truly short-term exception to the smart law that was designed to ensure that state employees can’t game the system and undermine the stability of our State Retirement System.
But the teachers could have applauded those provisions and held their noses to accept the five-day-classroom provision as a necessary part of the compromise. They didn’t.
Instead, the association’s Patrick Kelly told The Post and Courier’s Seanna Adcox: “The five-day return, at this point, is appropriate. It feels like the appropriate move in the best interest of our students.”
He’s right about that.
It’s disappointing that the Legislature needs to intervene to get all of our school districts to allow students back into the classroom full time, when the Charleston County School District and so many others have demonstrated, for months now, that it’s safe. And we still hope the law won’t be necessary because the holdout districts will allow all the students back in class before the House is able to sign off on the bill.
But it’s good to be reminded that most of our teachers really are concerned about the science, and their students, and aren’t refusing to provide those students with the education we all need them to have.