Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier on the South Carolina Supreme Court declining a request by new law school graduates to practice law in the state without taking the bar exam:
In the middle of a pandemic that is stretching our hospital capacity and seems stubbornly unwilling to just go away on its own, nurses are essential employees with a capital E.
They were already important and in short supply. So when COVID-19 temporarily shuttered administration of the professional licensing exam for new nurses and then created a testing backlog that left 200 nursing graduates in South Carolina unable to work, DHEC and the state licensing board granted a temporary work-around.
Under the plan announced last week, new nursing graduates will be allowed to practice as “nurse graduates,” with restricted duties and under the supervision of a registered nurse, once they register to take the NCLEX, as the test is called. They’ll lose that designation if they fail the test or once the pandemic ends.
Two elements made this suspension of the professional standards reasonable: It’s a temporary suspension and it helps meet an urgent public need.
In other words, it’s the opposite of the permanent elimination to meet only private needs that some recent law school graduates asked of the state Supreme Court. As The Post and Courier’s Sara Coello reports, more than 150 people recently asked the high court to let new graduates of the USC and Charleston schools of law practice law without taking the Bar exam.
Not to practice law temporarily until they considered it safe enough to take the exam, but to just skip it. Maybe they would work under the supervision of a real attorney for some amount of time, and maybe they wouldn’t — their petition mentions a Utah requirement that law school graduates do that for 360 hours as an example of what the court might consider.
In any event, there would be no requirement that they pass the Bar after the pandemic ends and no argument that there was an urgent public need to immediately increase South Carolina’s supply of attorneys by 350.
Since some unidentified number of the 150 unidentified petitioners were deans and professors of the law schools and S.C. attorneys, we suspect that this was in part an attempt to use the pandemic as an excuse to eliminate the exam altogether.
After all, it comes at a time of growing agitation nationally against the exam, which, like nursing exams and medical boards and other professional licensing tests, is used by states to protect the public from students who graduate without the knowledge they need. And it would give future law school graduates a pretty good argument that they shouldn’t have to take the exam, which as many as a third of graduates fail the first time.
The court very reasonably declined to allow this year’s graduates to practice law without demonstrating their competence, noting that “a significant percentage of the applicants from each law school fail to obtain a qualifying score for admission, thereby demonstrating a lack of basic legal knowledge and skills,” and opting instead to make accommodations for the pandemic that the relatively small number of test takers allows it to do.
It increased the space for the exam by more than 60% (to 69,000 square feet for 392 test takers) and divided the testing sites into four distinct locations in the cavernous Columbia Convention Center and the State Fairgrounds so fewer than 100 test takers would be in each room.
The court set strict requirements for mask wearing and social distancing before and during the two-day test, said test-takers should avoid unnecessary contact with the public for two weeks prior to the exam and, crucially, warned that anyone who violated the rules could be blackballed from practicing law for up to five years.
Those requirements make taking the Bar exam exponentially less dangerous than going out bar hopping, or hanging out at a crowded beach, or attending a party with a dozen friends, or eating in a dine-in restaurant, or working in a restaurant or participating in countless other activities that too many South Carolinians are routinely participating in.
And since the court’s ability to enforce its rules likely will produce 100% compliance, it’s probably even safer than going grocery shopping in one of our too-few mask-mandated communities.
The State on reopening schools in South Carolina amid the coronavirus pandemic:
No child in South Carolina should be forced to be physically present in a school building in order to receive an adequate education during the upcoming academic year.
Period. It’s that simple.
That should be a steadfast and firm rule of thumb as our state works toward reopening our schools by this fall — and particularly as long as South Carolina continues to grapple with troubling rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
It’s time for Gov. Henry McMaster to leave no doubt that he embraces that philosophy.
McMaster needs to move away from his current approach of publicly pushing state educators to reopen their facilities for face-to-face instruction by early September while also prodding South Carolina’s parents to commit to having their children physically return to classrooms this fall.
It’s an unhelpful posture for McMaster to assume as long as South Carolina continues to trend as a national hotspot for COVID-19 cases and deaths — and as long as there are no clear assurances that these grim numbers will dramatically flatten and improve by early fall.
It’s also an unnerving posture for McMaster to assume given this stubborn reality: despite the spiking virus rates, McMaster still refuses to implement a statewide requirement to wear face masks.
At minimum, you’d think that requirement would be a must before McMaster could even begin to credibly urge educators to emphasize face-to-face learning — or actively encourage parents to put aside legitimate concerns and send their children back inside classrooms in a matter of mere weeks.
Rather than hectoring educators and exerting passive-aggressive pressure on parents, McMaster should stand aside and simply let individual school systems get on with creating suitable educational game plans for their communities during the 2020-21 academic year.
The best tack appears to be relying on a hybrid approach of providing virtual learning while also making in-person instruction accessible as a totally voluntary option for parents to choose for their children — not one that is aggressively pushed upon them by an impatient governor.
As our state continues our painstaking effort to recover elements of normality while still confronting the realities of COVID-19, educators, parents and students alike need clarity when it comes to the education process during the months ahead.
And this is clearly the most resonant message they can receive:
No child will be forced to sit in a classroom to get a quality education in South Carolina during the 2020-21 school year.
McMaster’s rhetoric is needlessly muddling that simple message. It’s time for the muddled rhetoric to end.
The Index-Journal on the death of U.S. Congressman John Lewis:
America has come a long way since the launch of the civil rights movement; yet, there remains a good stretch of the Edmund Pettus Bridge that must be crossed.
The death Friday of civil rights icon John Lewis reminds Americans of the extreme sacrifices made by those who, while equal in the sight of God were deemed unworthy of basic civil rights in a nation that was founded on the premise that all its people were entitled to unalienable rights to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
And the Black Lives Matter movement of today reminds Americans that as much as John Lewis and others suffered in a government-sanctioned brutal attack March 7, 1965 — Bloody Sunday — that helped turn the tide on segregation and the suppression of civil rights, the march must continue.
Lewis was but 25 when he led voting rights efforts in Selma and, on that fateful day, led a march to tell segregationist Gov. George Wallace that Black men and women were free people and not subject to the unjust laws and treatment meted out by segregation.
He was 80 years old when he died on Friday. Think about that. For better than 55 years, John Lewis fought against social injustices in the streets, on the famous bridge to Montgomery and in the halls of Congress.
In all those years, he held to the principles he and other civil rights leaders — Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin E. Mays, Hosea Williams among them — believed would bring about necessary change, that nonviolence and civil resistance were the foundation for dismantling segregation and Jim Crow laws.
The march for blind justice, equality and equity has not come to an end. Lewis certainly recognized that well before cancer claimed his long and distinguished life in the civil rights movement.
We would do well to honor his memory and legacy by continuing the march, and doing so as he would have wanted, through nonviolent means and, to use his own words, “good trouble.”