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Richland One Reopening Problems: 170 Teacher Vacancies And Communication Issues

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Richland County School District One has more teacher vacancies than any other school district in South Carolina, according to a recent report from SC For Ed.

Richland One has 170 teacher vacancies to fill for the 2020-2021 school year, the report updated this week shows.

To compare, Greenville County School District, the largest in the state with more than 5,000 teachers and 74,000 students, only has 19 vacancies as of this week.

Charleston County — a district with around 46,000 students — had the second highest number of teacher vacancies at 107. Lancaster County School District (with around 13,000 students) had the third highest at 49 teacher vacancies.

In total, South Carolina reported 1,180 teacher vacancies across the state on Aug. 9.

Richland One accounts for 14 percent of the teacher vacancies in the state, with only 3 percent of the total student population.

According to the report, Richland One is the ninth largest district in S.C. with around 2,000 teachers and 22,154 students

At this time last year, Richland One had 99 teacher vacancies — also the highest in the state, according to the report.

Chris Haas, an SC for Ed Midlands representative, called the teacher shortage an “absolute crisis” in a recent WIS News 10 story.

“A thousand vacancies is an absolute crisis,” Haas told WIS News 10. “We lose about 6,000 teachers a year and we only graduate about 1,700 a year and then we try to make the difference with international teachers, people coming in from other states.”

Last year, SC For Ed reported declining vacancies in July and August. But this year, possibly due to COVID-19 concerns, vacancies increased from 1,158 on August 1 to 1,180 on August 9.

Richland One’s average teacher salary at $51,985 and minimum starting salary at $39,260 are both higher than the state’s average ($48,699 average salary and $37,846 starting salary.)

The average South Carolina school district has around 9,400 students and 15 teacher vacancies. This means Richland One has about 11 times the amount of teacher vacancies as the average school district with just twice the students.

Why so many teacher vacancies in Richland One? If you are a teacher or a former teacher in the Richland One school district and would like to speak with us on or off the record about teacher vacancies in the district, please email us at [email protected]

Reopening Confusion

Richland One has reported increasing vacancies since July 26.

On July 21, Richland One administrators presented the district’s plan for reopening, starting the school year with all students learning virtually. The plan was not voted on by board members, but decided by administrators.

After parents petitioned for face-to-face learning this fall, South Carolina Superintendent of Education (SCDE) Molly Spearman approved Richland County School District One‘s reopening plan — but added that the approval is contingent upon the district offering an in-person option for all students beginning Sept. 14 at the latest.

Then Richland One made the following announcement on July 31:

“We are modifying our plan to create an in-person option one day a week during Phase 1 of our plan. We will provide additional information to our parents next week,” said Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon. “As we move forward, our priority continues to be protecting the health and safety of our students and staff.”

So from July 31 until this week, teachers, students, and parents were planning on going back to school one day a week starting this September.

Then, on Monday, SCDE changed the wording on its website to say “plan approval is contingent upon the district and SCDE reevaluating the district’s in-person option every two weeks, beginning with the district’s official start date.”

“Now that SCDE has removed the in-person option contingency, we are not adding a one day a week face-to-face option to our plan,” York told FITSNews on Tuesday.

We heard from several parents and teachers who said they were not informed of this change in plans until our article was published.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Richland One school district sent out an email to parents saying that they were notified on Monday that SCDE removed the contingency and the district would be going through with the original plan approved in late July.

Richland One‘s final plan offers parents the choice to enroll their children in a year-long virtual learning program or choose the phase-in option.

The district is allowing parents to withdraw their children from the virtual program through Aug. 17, the email said.

In this plan, all students start virtually until the percent positive rate of COVID-19 tests drop to below 10 percent in Richland County.

“The Phase-In Model begins with eLearning (Phase 1) and transitions to hybrid (Phase 2), with students attending school in-person two days a week and learning from home the other three days, then to traditional face-to-face instruction five days a week (Phase 3),” Richland One officials said in a release. “The transitions would be made based on the COVID-19 risk rating for Richland County as determined by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).”

As of August 10, Richland County had a 25.9 percent positive rate, according to SCDHEC. This is slightly up from July 27, when it had a 24.7 percent positive rate.

But here’s where it gets really confusing.

On Wednesday, Spearman’s office sent Witherspoon the following letter “strongly encouraging” that Richland One offer a face-to-face option for students starting in September.

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FITSNews asked Spearman’s office to clarify the letter. We asked SCDE spokesperson Ryan Brown if this means that SCDE is mandating that Richland One will offer a face-to-face option for students starting in September.

“Yes, barring any major health or safety obstacles we will be asking districts beginning virtually to phase in their in-person offering within two weeks. For Richland One, that would be the week of September 21,” Brown replied. “If the district does have major health or safety obstacles that they are able to substantiate with evidence to the SCDE, we will evaluate that requirement on an individual basis.”

When we asked Brown to give an example of a “major health or safety obstacle, here’s what he said:

“School A has 100 students and 20 teachers. 7 teachers have tested positive for COVID-19 and are quarantining for 2 weeks. Asking School A to go back face to face with added COVID-19 precautions (social distancing, etc.) with 100 students and only 13 teachers would be a significant health and safety obstacle.”

FITSNews will continue to work to get answers on Richland One’s reopening plans and teacher vacancies.

Here are some links to previous coverage of the Richland One school district:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].

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WANNA SOUND OFF?

Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our stories? We have an open microphone policy! Submit your own letter to the editor (or guest column) via-email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE. Want to help support what we’re doing? SUBSCRIBE HERE.