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RPS closing additional days first week of November for employees’ mental health

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 9:02 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2021 at 6:41 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In an RPS Direct update on Wednesday evening, Superintendent Jason Kamras said the division will be closing school additional days the first week of November to help with employees’ mental health.

During the first week of November, students already had off Nov. 2 for Election Day, Nov. 4 for Diwali and Nov. 5 for virtual parent/teacher conferences. Now, the division will also close on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3, giving students the whole week off.

“I recognize I’m giving our families very short notice of this calendar change and truly apologize for the inconvenience it will cause. After very careful consideration, I made this decision because I think it’s essential for our employees’ mental health. And because of their mental health, I worry about significant staff absences on November 1 and 3, which could make it very difficult for us to follow our COVID-19 distancing protocols, putting student and staff health in jeopardy. Again, I sincerely apologize for the short notice and thank you in advance for your understanding,” Kamras said in the update.

Kamras said the decision comes after speaking with dozens of teachers and staff about how stressful the year has been so far.

“Many have shared that they’re on the brink of burning out – even leaving – and it’s only October,” Kamras said.

Since the announcement was made, many have been voicing their support and opposition to this decision.

Jimmette Jones, a parent of a future RPS student and a former educator for the district, says she is happy to see the district focus on mental health.

“We need to have more conversations about mental health for teachers and students,” said Jones. “I like that RPS is getting ahead of that curve and having that conversation.”

Rachael Sellers, a parent of a kindergartener, understands the reasoning behind the mental health days and fully supports this.

However, Sellers believes more notice should’ve been given to parents on this calendar change.

“I know that they’re trying to do the best that they can for the masses,” Sellars said. “My heart goes out to those who I know are going to struggle with child care and having that week off of work.”

In his video message, Kamras apologized for the short notice and the inconvenience this could cause for families.

“After very careful consideration, I made this decision because I think it’s essential for our employees’ mental health,” Kamras said. “And because of their mental health, I worry about significant staff absences on November 1 and 3, which could make it very difficult for us to follow our COVID-19 distancing protocols, putting student and staff health in jeopardy.”

Robin Keegan, a reading specialist at Ginter Park Elementary School, believes Kamras should’ve planned these days better.

“Now, he’s (Kamras) left with teachers who are struggling and it’s more chaos,” she said. “I feel like nothing is planned very well with many voices in tune.”

NBC12 also reached out to all Richmond School Board members through email.

Jonathan Young, vice chair for the Richmond School Board, didn’t support this decision and believes more can be done to help teachers.

“There are a lot more effective ways to provide for our teachers than to last minute, 11th hour, resume, even if its just for a week, what we did for a year and a half,” Young said.

In addition to those measures, Kamras said no new division-wide programs will be added this year.

Teachers also voiced that they do not have enough time to since losing duty-free lunches and independent planning time.

“Many teachers have lost their duty-free lunch because of our COVID protocols which, in many cases, require students to eat in the classroom with their teacher. We simply don’t have enough lunch monitors to cover every one of these rooms,” Kamras said.

The division is now asking for volunteers to help monitor lunches so teachers can get their duty-free lunches back. Kamras has also instructed principals to make the changes needed to help make independent teacher planning time more sacred.

Kamras said teachers have also voiced that students are “exhibiting significant trauma from the past 20 months,” and that more is needed to be done to help them.

“I wish I had a quick fix for this one, but I sadly do not. Many of our students faced multiple pandemics before COVID-19: poverty, racism, gun violence, and more. The last 20 months have only exacerbated these. While we’ve already invested millions this year for additional mental health clinicians and other supports, we need to do even more. That’s why – with the School Board’s consent – I intend to reallocate $3 million of our federal relief funding to increase mental health supports for our students,” Kamras said.

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