COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Governor Henry McMaster and Superintendent Molly Spearman have charged school districts to get back to the classroom with or without a vaccine and to get a plan in place regarding how to vaccinate teachers when the state moves to Phase 1B.
“It feels like being tossed the bare minimum of the life preserver and then being told good luck,” SC for Ed Research Director Steve Nuzum said.
South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said that some larger districts have been preparing for this for weeks, while smaller districts are just now getting started and working at full speed to get their plans ready.
Kershaw County Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins said they had been in talks with MUSC and Kershaw Health about teacher vaccinations, but McMaster’s announcement is speeding things up.
“We went from a crawl phase to a run phase it looks like overnight,” Robbins said. “We had some discussions with our emergency medical planners in Kershaw County that had some ideas. We didn’t have a concrete plan in place, but in speaking with them and with our hospital, we will go into overdrive now making sure we have something.”
On Thursday, McMaster said 37 school districts have a plan in place while 19 have only begun talks with local health care providers and 25 districts have no plan at all.
Robbins said they are now surveying their teachers for who might want the vaccine. He also said being in a large rural district does present challenges with distributing the vaccine, but he’s happy that Spearman is leaving it up to districts to roll out a vaccine plan.
“Every district and every community has its own uniqueness to it so to try to roll out a boiler-plate plan to the entire state I don’t think would have been effective whatsoever,” Robbins said.
However, East said while larger districts have been working on vaccine plans for weeks and teachers in districts like Greenville and Lexington County will be taken care of, she worries this won’t be as easy for smaller districts.
“Who is taking care of our little districts that don’t have the resources to sit and call and make this work right now?” East said. “That’s really frustrating because rural south Carolina is really important, and those folks don’t have the capacity to turn around and say, ‘Okay, we can drop everything we are doing right now and work on a vaccine plan.’”
Teachers said they are also feeling disheartened by Spearman’s position Thursday that the state has spent over $100 million on PPE to make schools safe, so teachers need to be back in the classroom.
“You can say that you’ve cut a check for however many millions, but if you’re not on the ground seeing how that money is being spent, I don’t know that that’s even relevant,” Nuzum said.
Nuzum added not all districts are equal when it comes to the safety precautions that are being taken, and teachers don’t feel safe with the measures in place. Further, Nuzum said staffing also remains a huge issue with teachers out on quarantine, and many teachers feel the vaccine will make it safe for both teachers and students to return to the classroom in a way that allows for productive learning where teachers aren’t out on quarantine.
“If you want us to go back face-to-face five days a week, just vaccinate the teachers,” East said. “That’s all we are asking and I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
McMaster said about 58% of the state’s teachers want the vaccine, according to a recent survey.