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FCPS establishes employee wellness days

The Franklin City School Board voted unanimously Nov. 4 to follow the superintendent’s recommendation of providing support for faculty and staff by designating employee wellness days every other Friday of the 2021-22 school year beginning Friday, Dec. 3.

Tamara Sterling

FCPS Superintendent Dr. Tamara Sterling said this recommendation was born out of one of the board members asking how the teachers were doing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, what the school division was doing for them and what more could be done.

“So out of that, I talked to some principals, and we came up with a really good recommendation, and actually, it’s on the tailwind of many other divisions that are taking the wellness and mental health of their teachers extremely seriously,” Sterling said.

She later noted that supporting teacher mental health is extremely critical, because “we all must remember our teachers come out and they teach our children, but they also have to be well enough to be able to support their families and raise their own children and be happy and healthy individuals. And not having that kind of time really is a detriment when they have to come in to the schools, do lesson plans, (navigate a) teacher shortage, and then all of a sudden be troopers with taking on additional students when other teachers have to be quarantined, students have to be quarantined — it is a lot.”

She said the school division leaders observed it was within their power to be able to change the division’s schedule a little to give teachers “some additional time for self-care, mental health, planning future lessons or just taking a moment to breathe. We want to be able to provide that to our teachers.”

In her presentation, she stated that the Virginia Department of Education requires each school to have a minimum of 990 instructional hours in a school year. Any hours over that amount are considered “banked hours” and can be used to adjust calendars without make-up times.

For FCPS’ 2021-22 school year, the instructional hours scheduled for S.P. Morton Elementary School equal 1,038, giving it 48 banked hours; instructional hours set for Franklin High School equal 1,103, giving it 113 banked hours; and the instructional hours scheduled for J.P. King Jr. Middle School equal 1,223 hours, giving it 233 banked hours.

Sterling noted that beginning Dec. 1, there are 23 Fridays remaining in the school year, and she recommended 14 of them be considered for employee wellness days.

With the board’s vote, those days will be Dec. 3 and 17, Jan. 14 and 28, Feb. 11 and 25, March 11 and 25, April 8 and 29, May 13 and 27 and June 3 and 10.

“When I say 14 Fridays, I mean a half-day schedule, so the teachers would come in for that half-day,” she said.

These employee wellness days will also be half-days in school for the students.

Sterling’s presentation stated that early dismissal uses two hours of instructional time, so 28 hours are needed from the banked hours to cover the establishment of employee wellness days. 

Early dismissal times will remain the same: 12:45 p.m. for the high and middle schools and 1:20 p.m. for the elementary school.

In fielding questions from the school board, Sterling explained that the wellness days would feature activities for teachers.

“We also do recommended activities like planning, but we are working with our nurses to be able to come up with some themes,” she said.

Asked how wellness days would impact hourly employees, Sterling said, “Because it is a half a day, they will get paid just as they would for a normal full day.”

At-large board member Carrie Johnson asked, “Has there been any communication with local day cares to see if they’ll be able to receive children early on those days? Is that something that we’ve considered? I would hate to have an extra stress on the elementary school parents.”

“Actually we have not, so that is something we can definitely look into,” Sterling said.