WILLIAMSBURG — The Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) School Board discussed recommended revisions to the 2021-2022 school year calendar, as well as the initial planning phases of the 2022-2023 school calendar, during Tuesday, Nov. 9’s meeting.
The Board was also conflicted over the decision to give the entire week of Thanksgiving off for students and staff.
Daniel Keever, WJCC’s chief operating officer, told the board that when the recommended school calendar for ’21-22 was approved, there was the inclusion of three virtual learning days added throughout the calendar on Oct. 1, Jan. 27 and March 4.
The division sought feedback from the school community following the Oct. 1 date; the first of the three scheduled virtual learning days, to determine if any revisions needed to occur.
The general feedback from the survey, which was completed by over 2,000 parents and family members and nearly 670 members of the teaching staff, suggested that the majority of family members and staff did not support the use of the remaining virtual learning days in the 2021-2022 school calendar.
After reviewing the results, administration recommends that the remaining two virtual learning days on Jan. 27 and March 4 be changed to teacher work/collaboration days and student holidays.
Students would not report to school in-person or virtually those days, and teachers would be able to use those days for collaborative planning time.
The discussion then shifted to calendar adjustments that both Newport News and Hampton public schools recently announced.
Board member Dr. James Beers said that he has received a “tremendous” amount of feedback from exhausted teachers who would like the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week off in addition to the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday vacation days.
He noted that many parents planning trips for that week would welcome the opportunity for their children to be off those two days.
Board member Greg Dowell was concerned with the loss of instructional hours, and recommended giving them Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week off in lieu of the January and March virtual learning days.
While Superintendent Dr. Olwen Herron acknowledged the stress and exhaustion teachers and students are experiencing, she said that she was concerned about the burden the two extra days off of Thanksgiving week would place on families who work and would be unable to get child care with such short notice.
Board member Julie Hummel leaned more toward giving the whole week of Thanksgiving off due to concerns over a shortage of substitutes.
“I know we’re at our absolute limit with subs,” Hummel said. “It does worry me for that Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, because if people report in sick, there is absolutely no one to cover for them.”
Board member Kyra Cook supports the administration’s recommendation to change the virtual learning days, and said that more notice would have been needed to allow parents to make alternative arrangements if they change the Thanksgiving week schedule.
“I understand that everyone is exhausted, but I’ve also heard from panicked, double-working parents saying that they are hearing this might happen and they have no child care,” she said.
Dr. Herron said that the decision is a “tough call.”
Chairman Jim Kelly said that he was supportive of the administration’s recommendation of changing the January and March virtual learning days to teacher work/collaboration days, but suggested that teachers be given the option to work from home.
Kelly later also said that he would prefer to just give those two days off for teachers, as he was concerned that some school administrators would be more adamant about having their teachers work that day than others.
The Board also provided feedback on planning for the 2022-2023 school calendar.
After hearing feedback from teachers, Cook suggested that an additional day be added to the start of the school year to give teachers more time to prepare their classrooms.
The Board will review the recommended revisions to the 2021-2022 school calendar year before the next regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16.