By Kinnidy Thoreson, Staff Writer
When Governor McMaster announced in July for all school districts to provide an in-person class option in its reopening plans, teachers across the state pushed back citing that with the growing number of COVID-19 cases, it wasn’t safe to return to school.
Patrick Kelly, the Director of Governmental Affairs at the Palmetto State Teachers Association (PSTA), speaks on behalf of the teachers of South Carolina and their concerns. “Teachers that we have heard from consistently want to ensure that it is a safe environment for both students and staff.”
The PSTA is the largest association of educators in the state, with classroom teachers making up 90 percent of its membership. Although he couldn’t provide the number of District 4 teachers in the PSTA, Kelly said that 649 members work in Spartanburg County school districts.
The PSTA publicly opposed the governor’s push for in-person instruction. In a statement from July 15, the PSTA outlines that if health conditions continue to decline as they have, in-person instruction “would needlessly jeopardize the health and safety of our state’s 800,000 students and more than 50,000 teachers.”
All 46 counties in South Carolina have a high disease activity, according to the latest data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Spartanburg County has 24,621 total possible COVID-19 cases. Break that down further, 1,129 COVID-19 cases are confirmed in the 29388 zip code.
Governor Henry McMaster instructed the SC Education superintendent Molly Spearman to not approve any district plan that doesn’t include an option of in-person instruction five days a week.
Spartanburg School District Four released its revised reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year on July 22 with options for a hybrid A/B model of in-person instruction and virtual school.
To further elaborate on the governor’s recommendations, Kelly said, “PSTA’s members have consistently told us that they want to return to in person instruction as soon as it is safe to do so, and that’s where the rub is. We agree completely with the governor that a return to in person instruction is ideal and desirable, but whereas he wants to return regardless of public health conditions, teachers that we have heard from consistently want to ensure that it is a safe environment for both students and staff.”
A couple of teachers we talked to are trying to remain optimistic in this era of uncertainty and constant change.
Stephanie Seay, the 2005 South Carolina teacher of the year who currently teaches in Spartanburg County, expresses her confidence in the teachers’ adaptability and student’s success even in these uncertain times. “I am optimistic about how well it will be handled because I’ve already spoken with teachers and met with planning committees,” Seay explains. “I am very optimistic because I know how innovative, creative, and giving teachers are. I feel confident that we will handle any challenges that this brings with extreme grace and success.”
Tracy West, another Spartanburg County teacher who has been teaching for 18 years, advises students to go into the new school year “with a positive attitude, knowing that the teachers are there for them. We are there for not only teaching them but for their safety as well and we are going to look out for them in every situation we can.”
The well-being of children is the number one priority of educators. Seay asks for students, parents, and communities to be advocates on behalf of their students and make the teachers aware of how they can adapt and adjust so that every student feels supported.