The scene at SC State House on May 1 as thousands of teachers rally
After arriving in Columbia on Wednesday morning, Hilton Head Island Middle School teacher Bridgette Frazier looked around and saw she was surrounded by thousands of people just like her — educators, nearly all in red, who intimately knew the challenges, cared about their students, worried about the future of their profession and who had come from all over the state to demand meaningful action from legislators.
“It was inspiring,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “It was really nice to be out here.”
Frazier was one of hundreds of Beaufort County teachers, and among an estimated 10,000 marchers, who traveled to the capital to have their voices heard on issues such as higher teacher pay, fully funded education, ending chronic teacher shortages and getting more mental health resources for students.
The rally, organized by SC for Ed, left thousands of classrooms empty and caused at least seven school districts to cancel class for the day.
Beaufort County School District was not among those that closed and instead made up for the shortfall by hiring substitutes and shifting staff.
“It went really well actually,” school spokesman Jim Foster said Wednesday of the day.
Bluffton High School teacher Ashley Parlagreco-Long, who attended the march, said she was thankful for the district’s support in accommodating teachers who wanted to attend the rally.
She was also grateful, she said, to the administrators who were there with them in spirit.
Bluffton High principal Denise Garison, whose daughter is a teacher in another state, wore red on Wednesday, the color adopted by the movement.
“I understand the importance of May 1st for many of you,” Garison wrote in an email to staff Sunday evening, “and I can promise you, absolutely no judgment or repercussions will come of you enacting ‘the same fundamental civic responsibilities and privileges as other citizens.’”
She told teachers she agreed “100 percent” with a letter the Board of Education sent to the county’s legislative delegation in Columbia that stated, in part, that “teachers are professionals and need to be compensated as such.... We believe that the State should provide funding for any educational program that it so mandates.”
Okatie Elementary School posted photos of their eight staff members who attended the rally along with a message: “Thank you for your passion and desire to lead the change that is desperately needed to keep qualified and dedicated educators in our schools.”
Board member Cathy Robine, a former teacher herself, was among those who chipped in for a charter bus that transported 55 Beaufort County teachers to Columbia.
She was out of town Wednesday, but said she would have offered to fill a classroom so a teacher could march.
“I still consider myself a teacher,” she said. “Once you’ve done it, it’s in your blood. I just wanted to help them.”
Robine also complimented the district for its efforts to cover for the high absences Wednesday.
“I thought they did a great job of letting teachers know they were supported,” she said.
Before returning home, Frazier shared some of her favorite signs from the march.
“Teachers are paid more at Hogwarts.”
“We’re not walking out on our students, we’re standing up for them.”
One held by a little girl that said “When I grow up, I can’t afford to be a teacher.”
And one that contained a reference from the show “Breaking Bad,” “Pay teachers more. — Walt.”
But she and Parlagreco-Long both emphasized that the march was not about a singular issue.
“It is NOT only about salaries,” Parlagreco-Long wrote in a Facebook message to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
Frazier said the rally was about a “whole spectrum” of issues that locally include increasing recess time, reducing assessments, ending high turnover, addressing housing affordability, and treating students as individuals with needs that can’t always be met using one standard approach to education.
“This has been going on for too long,” she said about teachers’ concerns. “People are just really burned out.”
As for the notion that she and the other teachers who marched had shirked their responsibilities Wednesday, Frazier said, “No one’s out here griping about something that’s frivolous... We’re doing this for our students and we’re doing this for the people after us.”
She said teachers over the years have been conditioned to accept their circumstances and not rock the boat.
“We still fight for them,” she said of those who didn’t march. “We still want them to get the same type of equality and progress that we want to usher in.”