Teachers face limited options as districts decide school reopening plans

Teachers face limited options amid school reopening plans, bound by district decisions and contracts

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As anxieties soar about a possible return to classrooms next month, teachers are considering their options.

“We have been fielding lots and lots of questions about what if I don’t feel safe? Do I have to return to school?” SC Education Association President Sherry East said. “All of those unknowns are a part of the stress and anxiety that school personnel are feeling right now.”

Many of the issues come down to teachers’ contracts. They are legally bound each school year by their signatures and breaking one could mean a permanent departure from the career they’ve put so much time, money and effort into.

“We are really in the wind here as far as what teachers can anticipate, and they are trapped in that contract. They cannot simply just leave,” Berkeley Co. teacher Kathleen Low said.

While districts are working to make accommodations for teachers who have health concerns and implement other measures for safe re-entry, many teachers feel their hands are still tied.

“For teachers right now, there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty,” Low said. “But on the whole, teachers really don’t know what they are going to be walking into, and on top of all of those things, they don’t know if they’re going to be safe.”

The South Carolina Education Association advocates for teachers and provides them with legal assistance. But for now, SCEA officials are urging teachers to speak with their district leaders if they feel unsafe and unsure about returning for in-person instruction.

However, many fear the pandemic will lead to more teachers leaving the profession amid the state’s current teacher shortage.

“They’ve said COVID’s run me out. I’m done. I can’t risk my life over this,” East said.

For any lawsuit to succeed against a school district, a teacher would likely have to prove their district was grossly negligent in preventing the spread of COVID and that they contracted the virus while on the job.

On Tuesday, Berkeley County teachers plan to hold a drive-by protest during the school board’s meeting.

District leaders are set to vote on when schools will reopen in Berkeley County at 6 p.m.

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