SC school candidates split on teachers’ personal lives

COLUMBIA -- During a frosty debate in which Republican Mick Zais called Democrat Frank Holleman a “political operative” and was rebuked by the Democrat for “name-calling,” the candidates for state superintendent differed on numerous questions, including whether to ban teachers from the classroom based on the particulars of their sex lives.

SCETV moderator Mark Quinn had asked both candidates to respond to comments made recently by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.

The Republican senator and Tea Party hero told a church rally that an individual should be barred from teaching for being openly gay or for being an unmarried woman who is sleeping with her boyfriend, according to The Spartanburg Herald Journal.

Holleman said the discussion was inappropriate.

“It’s not my business to check on what happens in someone’s private life,” said  said Holleman, an attorney who worked for the former S.C. Gov. Richard Riley when Riley was secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

“What I want to know is ‘Are you producing as a teacher? Are you helping our kids? Are you obeying the rules?’” said Holleman.

“If anybody, regardless of their orientation, engages in any misconduct toward a child, as far as I’m concerned they’re out.”

But Zais, a retired brigadier general in the Army who stepped down as president of Newberry College in July, said the decision should not be made by the state superintendent.

“One of the things that I’ve advocated on this campaign the entire time is that we need to delegate decision-making authority to the local level,” said Zais.

“I think this is a local decision. I don’t think it’s a decision that should be made in Washington or in Columbia.  I think local officials should make that decision.”

The candidates also differed on the question of paying teachers more for better performance.

Zais said teachers should be evaluated for student learning and come under a 360-degree evaluation, including review by peers and the school principal and input from students and parents. Holleman pointed to the state's existing 10-year program and cautioned against creating a disincentive for teachers to teach students with challenges and high-performing students who have little rome for improvement.

They also clashed on whether to expand the state’s voluntary 4-year-old kindergarten, with Holleman advocating for it and Zais arguing it would be too expensive and prove less appropriate for some children who learn better at home.

On Nov. 2 voters will select a successor for retiring Superintendent Jim Rex, who heads the agency of about 50,000 teachers, 700,000 students and $20 million budget. Besides Zais and Holleman, the other contenders are Green Party candidate Doretha Bull, Libertarian Tim Moultrie, and Independence candidate Tony Fayyazi.

The four-year position of state superintendent of education comes with a $92,000 salary.

Reach Sarita Chourey at or (803) 727-4257



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