New SC law guarantees daily break, planning time for many teachers, but not right away

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Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 6:10 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With the return of students to the classroom this month also comes the return of long days for a lot of South Carolina teachers.

For years, many of these educators have been lamenting that they don’t receive a break during the day to plan lessons, grade assignments, or eat their lunch.

“For too long, for many teachers in South Carolina, they were responsible for direct supervision of their students for the entirety of the workday, which meant all those other tasks that go into being an effective teacher went home with them at night,” Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association said.

For some teachers, it meant even harder-to-believe outcomes.

“They’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. If we have to go to the bathroom, we have to text somebody in the office to relieve us,’” South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said, describing conversations she has had with teachers who can’t leave their students unsupervised.

But a new law in South Carolina addresses concerns teachers had been bringing to the State House for years.

It guarantees at least half an hour of unencumbered time daily for all elementary and special education teachers in South Carolina public schools.

“If a school district decides to do it during lunch time, that’s what it would look like: Teachers get to actually go have a lunch break without students. Or it could be planning during the day,” East said.

Teachers say not getting bathroom and lunch breaks or having to regularly bring work home with them has been fueling burnout.

That is leading more teachers to quit, Kelly said, and leaving more South Carolina students without a highly qualified teacher.

“We believe that down the line, this will pay dividends for students by ensuring that their teachers have time to prepare effective instruction. It also benefits students by hopefully reducing the teacher turnover rate we’re seeing in this state so that fewer students are experiencing a day where they don’t have access to a highly qualified teacher,” Kelly said.

While the General Assembly passed this legislation earlier this year, and Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law in May, it is not required to be fully implemented until next July, so some teachers won’t have this guaranteed time on their schedule until the 2023-2024 school year.

This extra year gives the state Board of Education and local school boards time to develop their own policies on implementation and enforcement.

It will also give schools more time to boost staffing.

“Not every school in the state will be impacted by this law because a lot of elementary schools, the principals had figured out how to ensure unencumbered time for their teachers during the day,” Kelly said. “But in too many schools, that wasn’t the case, and for those schools, they’re going to have to figure out how to comply with the law because, yes, teachers need unencumbered time during the day so that they can perform their jobs well, but you also have to ensure that you have supervision of students.”

This new law does not guarantee unencumbered time for middle and high school teachers.

Kelly and East said planning time is usually already part of teachers’ normal schedules at those levels.

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