Several teachers at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) walked off of their jobs at the scandal-scarred agency on Monday in protest of the agency’s decision to force them to come to work amid rising concerns regarding the 2019-2020 coronavirus (known officially as 2019-nCoV or COVID-19).
“Teachers grabbed purses and walked out,” one source familiar with the situation told us.
At a time when governor Henry McMaster instructed every other teacher in South Carolina to stay home in the hopes of containing the virus, embattled SCDJJ director Freddie Pough ordered instructors at his agency to report for duty.
We were first alerted to this situation by a source on our anonymous tip line. The tipster informed us that Pough was “requiring all education staff to report to school although a state of emergency has been declared and all K-12 schools are closed.”
According to the tipster, Pough determined SCDJJ was “special” and did not “fall under the governor’s directive to close (schools) until the end of March.”
“Please investigate this as this decision is putting the health of the staff as well as juveniles in jeopardy,” the source added.
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We did investigate … and it turned out our tipster was correct, although it appears as though the situation is even worse than we were initially led to believe.
Two SCDJJ teachers reached out to us on Monday after we received the tip – each telling us horror stories about how this abysmally managed agency (which is already facing increasing legislative scrutiny for its ongoing failure to reform) is treating its teachers.
“We were already walking into a totally unsafe environment every day,” one teacher told us. “Now it is life and death. No precautions whatsoever were taken for this virus. It was (like) any other day to them.”
“No safety protocols (were) in place for teachers or kids – at ALL,” another teacher told us. “Not even hand sanitizer.”
“Kids are sitting ducks for an infection,” the teacher continued. “All teachers across the state are being protected … we are not. We were told to use personal time while other teachers are getting paid via state emergency declaration.”
“(He is) stabbing teachers in the back,” one teacher told us, referring to Pough. “He’s a rat.”
Another source close to the agency described Pough and others in high-paying leadership positions as “bad people.”
Based on our previous reporting about this troubled agency – and a recent complaint from the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) exposing the unconstitutional treatment of juvenile inmates at its main detention facility – we have seen nothing to contradict that assessment.
Why did Pough decide to force SCDJJ teachers to come to work this week amid peak panic regarding a global pandemic?
According to our sources, the decision was made as part of an effort to mitigate ongoing staffing shortages that have led to chronic violence at the agency’s facilities.
“There aren’t enough guards,” one teacher told us. “And the guards they do have aren’t trained, experienced or equipped to handle these juveniles.”
Another teacher concurred.
“He’s keeping us there to occupy the kids so that security wasn’t overwhelmed because they are so short staffed,” the teacher told us.
“We could easily provide work for kids to do in their unit,” the teacher added. “Why have us come in? Lack of security.”
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McMaster (above, left) visited SCDJJ earlier this month and called it a place that could take at-risk youth who have committed crimes and “turn them around, turn their lives around.”
Based on the findings of the USDOJ report and the litany of scandals that have befallen this agency in recent years, we referred to McMaster’s comments as “disconnected from reality.”
This news outlet has spoken with several legislators who are aware of the situation at SCDJJ. We have reached out to them for comment. We have also reached out to the agency’s public information office in the hopes of getting its perspective on the situation.
And of course, we have an open microphone policy for anyone looking to weigh in substantively on any of the stories we publish – or to proactively address any issue of their choosing.
Stay tuned …
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