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SC Teacher Vacancies Increase as Lawmakers Focus on Imaginary Issues | Opinion

Teacher vacancies in South Carolina have increased to a record high of 1,613, a 9% increase from last year, according to the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. The vacancy rate is more than double pre-pandemic highs. Last year alone, 7,353 S.C. educators quit and school librarian vacancies increased 77%.

Many factors are driving this turnover, but as a former teacher and SC for Ed board member, a few factors stuck out to me during recent conversations with S.C. educators: Loni Lewis, the South Carolina Association of School Librarians’ Lowcountry Regional School Librarian of the Year, told me that school censorship is “the thing” causing many school librarians to leave. In Berkeley County, one librarian quit during the school year and the position is not expected to be filled until next year. “I’m sure a lot more will leave at the end of the year,” Lewis said.

Pressure to remove texts and show “transparency” to the community, is “having real consequences because everything we do is a moving target” Some librarians have even reported being harassed by parents and other community members. Former elementary school teacher Mariel Taylor said while she primarily left teaching because of an excessive focus on testing young children, seeing educators painted as “indoctrinators” also made the profession less attractive.

Other educators described a high-stress culture that damaged their mental health, and said officials were more likely to listen to their concerns as private citizens — after they had quit — than when there was still an opportunity to retain them. Yet, our state leaders continue to waste time fighting a culture war that a recent Winthrop University poll indicates most of the state does not support. It’s unlikely the average S.C. legislator believes teachers are “indoctrinating” students, or that there is “pornography” in school libraries — already illegal under state and federal law.

But, many legislators stoke these fears if it helps win them reelection or financial support from national organizations. Many have stood aside and watched as their SC Freedom Caucus colleagues badmouth teachers and librarians, sue school districts, and generally jam up the process with dilatory, ridiculous or dangerous proposals — including their attempt to make abortion a death penalty offense for women. Radicals seem to believe their colleagues won’t stand up to them because they’re afraid to lose elections to people arguing they aren’t “conservative” enough, as if government censorship and state control of local school districts were conservative values.

Some moderates seem to hope someone else will solve the problem, banking on S.C. Education Superintendent Ellen Weaver’s proposed regulations, which create an even wider definition of age-inappropriate books than states like Florida, Texas and Utah do, and which could lead to even more extreme book challenges.

Others hope for some kind of not-so-bad censorship bill, perhaps a version of H. 3728, which failed to pass last session after more extreme censorship measures were added. But H. 3728 would have to be finalized by a committee of six that includes Adam Morgan, chair of the SC Freedom Caucus. Moderation seems unlikely.

This focus on imaginary issues has real costs: Educators are clearly stressed, overworked and under-compensated. But our leaders are failing to address those glaring issues. Instead, they are playing political games at our expense. According to research on school censorship released last month by the National Education Policy Center, “Even for educators yet to face formal sanction or organized attack, the threat is real — and helps to explain increased vacancies in states with harsh discriminatory censorship laws. As one Florida-based teacher put it in the report: “We’re in Hell and nobody is coming.”

Source : The State