Arrest of MBHS substitute teacher raises questions about requirements for teaching profession

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 8:20 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Questions are being raised about whether substitute teachers should meet additional state requirements before teaching in the classrooms.

These concerns came to light after a substitute teacher from Myrtle Beach High School was arrested last week for what police say involved lewd and inappropriate behaviors with students.

Forty-four-year-old Angela Bianca Hilton-Hecht is charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and unlawful communications.

The arrest warrants for this case outline inappropriate behaviors that happened while Hecht was subbing at Myrtle Beach High.

Horry County Schools says Hecht’s employment relationship has been terminated with the schools.

The incident has some viewers and families wondering if additional requirements are necessary to prevent this from happening again.

Substitute teachers are required by law to have a high school diploma.

Substitute teachers working within Horry County Schools are required to have a bachelor’s degree and complete a substitute workshop before teaching in the classroom.

However, the S.C. Department of Education says their agency has no state requirements for becoming a sub.

Some wonder if additional requirements on the state level, such as requiring a specific teaching license, could prevent unlawful activities from happening in the classroom.

One advocacy group says it’s impossible to know if those types of added requirements will prevent that type of incident from occurring.

Sherry East serves as the president of the South Carolina Education Association.

She says there are plenty of good, qualified substitute teachers across the Palmetto State who have contributed to a child’s success in the classroom.

East says background checks and training for substitutes before entering the classroom environment are a must. But she is concerned about placing additional requirements on substitutes right now, like requiring four-year degrees or licenses, at a time when teaching vacancies are being reported statewide.

East referenced the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) report released, which revealed over 1,000 vacant teaching/school positions for South Carolina schools for the 2021-22 school year

“Having a quality substitute in every classroom is essential to make the big picture work,” East said. “Maybe we need to look at some license requirements, maybe, but there’s nothing that would prevent a district from doing that right now. I’m definitely not in favor of anything that would slow the process down for a district or a school and if you’re going to ask someone to get a license that’s going to take time and money. Quite frankly, that’s not realistic to ask right now, maybe in the future. But none of this is a quick fix [answer] to preventing what happened [with the Myrtle Beach sub incident]. Surely, there was training to let you know that was inappropriate.”

East polled her members in numerous states and districts, confirming their requirements for being a substitute teacher.

“There’s no national norm for substitute teaching right now,” East said “It seems to vary by state, and even within states, it varies by districts. But that’s not the alarm bell right now-the alarm bell is we don’t have enough substitutes right now.”

East says the shortages include other vital positions for schools, like bus drivers. That’s why she says there’s a need to be a continued focus on ways to retain workers while attracting more qualified applicants to the positions.

“We are struggling to find everybody,” East said.

East says one step towards retaining staff members is re-looking at the pay scale.

“I think paying our support staff more would help attract more people into the job,” East said.

The Palmetto State Teachers Association echoed similar sentiments.

Patrick Kelly serves as the director of governmental affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association.

Kelly is also a U.S. Government teacher.

Kelly says there’s no higher calling for a school than the safety and well-being of every child that’s been entrusted to educational leaders while kids are on the school grounds.

“We need to take the process of hiring and selection of all staff in a school setting with the most urgency,” Kelly said. “Substitutes, teachers, bus drivers, everyone, we need to make sure we’re doing our due diligence. To be frank, that’s a little challenging right now in this current job market because we already have a shortage.”

On top of the teacher vacancies, Kelly says many school districts have been experiencing a substitute teacher shortage that only worsened during the pandemic.

He says districts have protocols in place when screening substitute applicants, such as criminal background checks and training for subs, to ensure potential risks are screened out.

“It’s hard, I don’t know how much beyond a criminal background check you’re going to be able to do to adequately screen out all potential risks,” Kelly said. “That’s true of every employment setting, you always have some people who after the most thorough human resources process end up not panning out. It’s just the unfortunate reality here, the stakes are so much higher than almost any other work setting because we’re entrusted with the care of families’ children.”

He says although districts are doing their diligence with screening their applicants and substitute teachers, he says school leaders are also struggling to attract people to even apply for vacant positions.

He says a good way for districts to bring in more qualified candidates is by making the pay for subs more competitive.

“A lot of districts have raised their daily rate of pay for subs over the last year and a half, in large part using COVID relief dollars. But in the job market where you have employers advertising $15-20 dollars an hour for a job-most districts aren’t paying substitute teachers that rate of pay, especially if they don’t have a college degree. This is a challenge for districts so I think this is the starting place,” Kelly said.

Kelly added there needs to be more attention on the work conditions for subs, ensuring there are adequate professional growth and training opportunities for substitute teachers.

Increasing substitute pay has been a focal point for many districts, including Horry County.

As of now, an Horry County substitute with a bachelor’s degree is making around $100 per day, compared to around $80 in previous years.

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