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HCPS board approves temporarily shortening school day by one hour for K-12

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 10:40 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Starting next month, Harrisonburg City Public Schools students will have their school day shortened by one hour after a unanimous vote by the school board on Tuesday night.

Patrick Lintner, Chief Academic Officer with HCPS, presented the COVID 2021 Exigency Plan to the board -- a plan of temporary steps to keep students in school.

Lintner addresses current challenges the division is facing, like increasing COVID-19 cases among teachers and students, teachers and staff being called out to cover classrooms for colleagues out sick, and reduced time for teachers to plan ahead.

He said the division, like many across Virginia, is experiencing staffing shortages and there are not enough substitutes to cover.

“Our staff is spread thin and certainly depressing the stress over the challenges of balancing this profession that they love with their families and their own mental health,” Lintner said.

Several teachers spoke out during the public comment period explaining their daily struggles in the classroom, like not having time for a break or to use the restroom, spending hours after school planning for the days ahead. One teacher said they are just weeks into the school year, but it already feels like March.

“Temporary response recommendations” were presented to the board, then later approved:

1. Shorten the instructional day beginning Oct. 4 at all schools (except pre-school) by one hour until Dec. 17 (48 days) to allow for teachers to have a planning time. Teacher hours would remain the same.

2. Limit field trips that involve the Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation (HDPT).

3. Temporarily reduce division-wide meetings that pull staff out of schools.

4. Deploy Central Office staff into buildings to support the teacher shortage.

5. For this school year only, permit all unused personal days to roll over into next year (instead of the usual maximum of 3 days in Policy 629).

6. Communicate and coordinate with external partners to provide an additional hour of care.

7. HCPS Mental Health team will expand wellness support groups in schools for staff.

8. Hire permanent substitute teachers starting with elementary.

Even with 48 shortened school days, HCPS will still meet the necessary 180 school days, or 990 hours, requirement.

“The exigency plan gives us one more tool to release stress on staff and we’ll continue to work with the health department,” Superintendent Dr. Michael Richards said.

The school board decided that they will revisit the COVID 2021 Exigency Plan in November to see if the plan is still necessary.

Several other HCPS teachers passionately spoke out during public comment on Tuesday night about the division’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. One woman said the division should test all staff, not just the unvaccinated, instead of discriminating against those not interested in getting the shot, and they should not be forced to take the nasal swab test.

“There is very clearly a staffing issue and burnt-out staff. Is there a plan in place for replacing my colleagues who love teaching and love their students more than anything, but are forced to be fired because an alternative non-invasive test won’t be provided?” one HCPS teacher said.

At the end of the meeting, Superintendent Richards said staff had the choice of getting the vaccine or weekly testing, but President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirement would apply to HCPS staff anyway.

“We are an employer of more than 100 people obviously, but [Virginia] is also an OSHA state, and so every school division in the commonwealth will have the same requirement when it comes through, and I think I’ll leave my comments at that,” Richards said.

For more information on the Sept. 21 meeting, click here.

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