CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The education advocacy group SC for Ed released a statement after a state senator disputed claims he denied teachers a request for meetings on the same day the group was at the State House for its 2020 Lobbying Day.
SC for Ed Board Member Saani Perry said Wednesday afternoon several Lowcountry teachers had reported to the group that Sen. Paul Campbell and Sen. Larry Grooms canceled some face to face interactions with educators, something Grooms immediately denied.
When pressed for more information, SC for Ed released the following statement, which did not name any senators or that Grooms canceled a meeting:
Several Lowcountry teachers reported that some of their elected officials canceled meetings with them. SC for Ed was not part of that correspondence and can only report was said in our opening session earlier this morning. In a Facebook post asking for which officials canceled, several Lowcountry teachers named their elected officials.
Many teachers made the trip to Columbia Wednesday to voice their concerns about a massive education overhaul bill making its way through the statehouse. They had taken a day off work and drove to the state’s capital to discover the meetings they thought they had scheduled were not going to happen.
“I am going to be docked a day to be here. I took my last $40 to be here, a tank of gas and I have $40 until I get paid tomorrow. But that’s okay…well it’s not okay, but it’s what I’m willing to do to be here,” one Lowcountry teacher told Sen. Sandy Senn. “It took a lot of time to get ready to leave stuff, and I’m getting texts there was a fight in my class first period. So, I have a mess to clean up when I get back tomorrow, but it’s important for me to be here and talk to you.”
Senn heard a few comments from teachers as they waited outside her office doors and some suggestions from two educators who happened to catch her stopping by her office to grab a cup of coffee. However, she insisted the meetings never made it onto her calendar, and she had other Senate commitments during those scheduled times.
Grooms said it’s a “false narrative” to say he cancelled meetings with teachers. He said he suggested 10:30 a.m. as a possible meeting time to several teachers who had called and emailed him, but he arrived late to those appointments because of other Senate obligations. Over the phone, Grooms said he did “visit with numerous teachers with Berkeley and Charleston County today.”
He also said he left a Senate meeting to meet with teachers.
Grooms added that he is always happy to meet with folks, especially if they are willing to make the drive to Columbia. However, he insisted his Senate schedule delayed him from arriving in time for this morning’s appointments. He also said his staff offered to pull the senator out of Wednesday afternoon’s Senate session to meet with any teachers who stayed.
Grooms also took the opportunity to speak from the Senate chamber floor during Wednesday’s session. In a statement to Live 5 News, Grooms said:
"Senators, We agree on a lot of issues in this body…we disagree with a lot of issues in this body, but we usually debate honestly with understanding for the needs in each other’s districts.
I’m just reading from today: “Group claims senators canceled meetings with teachers on Lobbying Day….”
I’ll say it…I’m mentioned in this article and you know what, it’s just not true. And when presented with the truth…the accusers backed down and changed their statement, but the damage was already done. Senators, I’m sure nearly all of you like me have met with teachers from your district. I know I have, I’ve met with teachers in my district and around the state. I’ve met with school board members and support staff.
And we’ve had productive conversations about respect for the profession, increasing pay, reducing standardized testing and having the freedom to actually TEACH.
Today was a positive day, I’ve enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with teachers who met with me in my office, stopped me in the hallway or spoke with me on the State House steps.
The task of improving education in the state is difficult as it is…without misrepresentations from partisan groups spinning the truth to fit their status quo agenda. As we continue to debate these important issues, I’m hopeful that we can stay focused and tune out the noise and deliver a product that actually makes our schools better. “
Campbell’s office did confirm they had to cancel teacher meetings. Carol Dubose, Campbell’s administrative assistant, said in a statement, “When I made the calls today, I told each one (and those who came by his office without an appointment) that they could call his office at the Charleston Airport and make an appointment there. Since the Senate met today at 12, I had to make these cancellations. When the teachers called for appointments earlier, they all told me they were coming today, even though I gave them the options of also a meeting in Charleston. They told me they were NOT coming today just to meet with him.”