School board approves 3 additional days off for Christmas break and new playgrounds

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Bus at LES 1st day 09-10-20
A bus drops off students at Luray Elementary on the first day of school.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Nov. 12 — While having students back in the classroom has shown the benefits of in-person instruction and socialization, ongoing ripple effects of the pandemic have created new obstacles and additional strain on teachers.

In addition to trying to fill the instructional gaps that “remote learning” left from last year, many teachers are being asked to cover for their peers who are out due to either quarantine protocol or an outright positive case of COVID-19. However, these only represent a few of the unique challenges that teachers have faced over the past 18 months.

“We’ve been talking for the last couple of board meetings of some ways of how we can work to support our teachers and staff in improving some of the mental health and well being,” Dr. Antonia Fox told members of the Page County School Board on Thursday evening. “We’ve also talked about different things we can do for students.”

The division’s superintendent gave “kudos” to some staff members for “their bravery for stepping up” and approaching her about the stress level among faculty and the need for a break. Dr. Fox took that request to the school board this week and received unanimous approval to adjust the academic calendar to give Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 20-22, as full days off for all students and staff, to include 12-month employees.

“Recognizing that this year is anything but ordinary and that students, staff, and families are experiencing additional stress and anxiety due to the continued impacts of the pandemic, the School Board approved a calendar revision at last night’s meeting,” reads a letter from Dr. Fox on the PCPS website announcing the change on Friday afternoon.

The school board’s approval makes the Christmas holiday extend a full two weeks.

“I just think that’s what’s needed…as a part…it’s not the answer to what we’re seeing,” Dr. Fox told school board members prior to the vote, “but it’s a part of allowing people some time to rest, rejuvenate and recover…to come back and start the new year off in a very positive vein.”

The superintendent stated that she felt “comfortable” with making the recommendation based on “hours built up” so far in the academic year, and if inclement weather hits this winter “we have some avenues to address that.” Dr. Fox also noted that she understands this could impact families in various ways, but the early notice “leaves five weeks to make adjustments.”

Schools and offices will be closed from Monday, Dec. 20, 2021 through Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, and will reopen from the winter break on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

Members of the school board were vocally in favor of the recommendation presented by the superintendent.

“My hats off to all employees of the school system,” Dist. 5 school board member Jackie Sullivan-Smoot said at the conclusion of Thursday night’s meeting. “Most everyone has gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

“In a normal year, I would say we need that instructional time,” said Dist. 2 school board member Rolf Gubler, “but this isn’t a normal year.”

“I know it’s tough…it’s a tough time,” Dist. 4 school board member Duane Painter said. “Parents, you have to be involved with your kids…we need you involved.”

Just before Thursday night’s meeting adjourned, Sullivan-Smoot added: “And to Dr. Fox, I’d like to say…thanks for creating an atmosphere where employees come and share their thoughts, concerns and ideas.”

The revised Academic Calendar can be viewed on the division’s webpage or by clicking HERE.

In other business at its Nov. 11 meeting, the Page County School Board:

• Approved four Purchase Orders to replace aging playground equipment at all four elementary schools in the county — Springfield ($161,131), Luray ($96,782), Stanley ($96,781) and Shenandoah ($96,781). Springfield received additional funds due to the full replacement of an existing wooden structure that is no longer used. The company performing the work, Playground Specialists, are also working on the Town of Luray’s project to replace Imagination Station at Ralph Dean Park. The replacement of playground equipment at the four elementary schools is being paid for through ESSER II grants and could potentially begin in the coming weeks.

• Approved three other Purchase Orders over $10,000 including — $13,305 to Burner Electrical for installation of a fire panel at Stanley Elementary; $11,866 for Enrollment Express/Ecollect forms from Powerschool; $11,096 for the special education services of Anne Gibson, SLP from Presence Learning ; and $11,412 for special education services of evaluation/assessments performed by Presence Learning.

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