Hundreds of Richland One parents, teachers and students rally to protest mid-year teacher reassignments
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Hundreds of Richland School District One parents, educators and students rallied in downtown Columbia on Monday, protesting the abrupt mid-year reassignment of 11 teachers last week.
The district says it made the decision after the first nine weeks of the school year due to class sizes and student-teacher ratios.
Many impacted parents are outraged and say they wish the situation had been handled differently.
The protesters were calling for transparency and accountability from Richland One after what they say is yet another decision by the district that disrespects its employees and makes them feel “disposable.”
Some say this is just the beginning, and they will continue to advocate for change.
“Change definitely needs to happen, and it needs to happen sooner rather than later so this won’t ever happen again,” Katie Krantz, a Richland One parent, said.
Krantz is one of hundreds of families that are impacted by the changes.
Her child at Satchel Ford Elementary has a new teacher due to the shuffling that has taken place at these schools in the aftermath of the reassignments.
“45 days in, like where were they?” Rebecca Williams-Agee, another Richland One parent, asked about district leadership.
The protest, organized by a group called “Rally R1,” came together in a matter of days after news of the district’s decision first came to light last Wednesday.
The group marched a mile from district headquarters to Governor Henry McMaster’s office at the State House and were flanked by several Columbia Police cruisers.
Neither district leadership nor any representative from the governor’s office addressed the crowd.
“Retaining teachers in Richland One has become very challenging, and when you undermine teachers when you devalue them and do not respect them, you are going to have a hard time finding quality teachers in the future,” Angela Zokan, a Richland One parent and public school advocate, said.
The crowd demanded action all along the route while chanting “Save our schools.”
They held signs saying “This is not a band-aid, “People – not a payroll,”
Satchel Ford fourth grader Bailey Bostic, who lost her teacher in this process, said the turnout at the event has given her hope.
“It feels like we’ve all come together, and it’s not just me in this situation,” she said. “I found out that there’s so much more people. And when we all come together, I think it makes a statement.”
Some are calling for the South Carolina Inspector General to investigate Richland One at the governor’s request.
Rep. Heather Bauer, D-Richland, whose district includes some of the impacted schools, said she and other legislators are exploring all avenues.
“We are looking at every opportunity to ask for, whether that’s a piece of legislation, investigation, lawsuits, whatever that might be, we’re going to turn over rock to figure out what’s going on.”
Bostic said she is hoping to build on Monday’s momentum.
“I’m not that sad anymore, I’m more fierce and I feel like I can be a better person this way and I can grow from this,” she said.
WIS spoke to several teachers at the rally who were alarmed by the moves but did not want to go on the record for fear of retaliation by the district.
Responding to the protest, district spokesperson Karen York said in a statement, “We understand their concerns and we certainly respect their right to voice those concerns. There were transition plans implemented or in process for all of the schools affected by the reassignments.”
Dr. Ericka Hursey, the former principal of Lower Richland High School, is suing the district and its board chair, alleging retaliation after she was removed from her position last July.
The lawsuit claims that she was reassigned for her free speech during a June 2022 graduation speech at the high school, which her attorney Paul Porter argues got under Richland One Board Chairwoman Cheryl Harris’ skin.
At the direction of Harris, Witherspoon transferred Hursey, the lawsuit claims.
Both Harris and the district have said they cannot comment on pending litigation.
The case has been transferred to federal court where it is currently pending, according to Porter.
Responding to the Monday protest, district spokesperson Karen York said in a statement, “We understand their concerns and we certainly respect their right to voice those concerns. There were transition plans implemented or in process for all of the schools affected by the reassignments.”
Richland One’s next board meeting is Tuesday night at Hopkins Middle School.
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