Teachers organize second protest demanding virtual school start in Berkeley County

VIDEO: Berkeley County teachers protest for virtual start

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Teachers in Berkeley County protested outside the district school board meeting Tuesday evening for a second time in two weeks. They demanded the school year begin virtually for instruction, to keep students and staff safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The stakes are no less than life or death, most specifically the prospect of exposing teachers, staff and students to face to face environment is not safe in our community at this time. We can all agree in person is best but only when it’s safe for all to do so,” Berkeley County teacher Andrea Catangay said.

The drive-by motor march started just after 6 p.m. as board members inside the district’s headquarters discussed reopening plans, among other things.

“While other counties are not perfect, it does seem like they are taking into account the accelerated Ed guidelines of high middle or low spread whereas our county is just pushing us face to face…and we still don’t understand the metrics they are using to determine face to face versus virtual when it comes to safety which is very frustrating,” Berkeley County teacher Rachel Gamble said.

According to the district’s reopening manual, schools are set to reopen with three options for parents to choose. In-person instruction will be provided as once choice. However, school schedules, classroom spaces, and day to day operations will be different from previous school years. The second option is for online, at-home blended distance learning. Teachers delivering instruction in the Blended Distance Learning model will live stream their instruction and use learning management tools to augment face-to-face instruction. Lastly, the district is offering an all-virtual option.

“Schools will follow district and school safety protocols to keep the school environment clean and sanitized throughout the day. Absent a vaccine, the school has four primary ways to protect students and staff: a) implementing frequent hand-washing and hand-sanitizing opportunities; b) encouraging the use of masks for staff and students when practical and social distancing is challenging; c) reducing close contact to adhere to social distance guidelines when possible; d) increasing cleaning and sanitation protocols in buildings and buses,” the reopening manual stated.

However, teachers are struggling with their own options for returning. Many feel the district isn’t doing enough to consider teachers’ concerns about the coronavirus. In response, a group of teachers organized their own survey which revealed 72.5 percent of the 833 teachers who responded, do not feel safe returning to their classrooms for face to face instruction, at this time. Most of them said they would feel safer teaching from home on a BCSD work schedule in an unencumbered way (i.e. teaching from home without home environment restrictions that may include childcare).

Many teachers also responded that they feel confused about their responsibilities for how blended-distance learning will be implemented. About 75 percent of the respondents said they believe they should be compensated for putting their health at risk while completing additional duties outside their own classrooms, including but not limited to, bus duty, temperature monitoring, and meeting and escorting students to classes or through the building.

“If you cannot answer teachers’ questions about how their school day will look, why open schools?WHY Since you have not listened to recommendations given by BCSD teachers, we have a vote of no confidence in your ability to safely open schools,” survey organizers said in a statement.

September 8 has been identified as the board approved adjusted school start date for BCSD students.

“Our school district has decided that we are going to go back to school that teachers will go back to school and have not given us a choice. Your choices were go back, resign or apply for an accommodation and none of us have heard anything,” Berkeley County teacher Kathleen Crumpler said.

School board member David Barrow admits the district’s message may not have been clear…but he stressed that teachers have more options and can contact the district’s human resources department about their concerns.

“If they feel like they are too old or if they have an underlying health condition or if they have daycare issues or if they have to attend an elderly sick patient. Those are issues that can be taken into consideration,” Board member David Barrow said. Initially they [teachers] didn’t quite understand or perhaps the message wasn’t as direct as it could have been.”

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