In an effort to allow planning time for educators and to reduce mental stress, the Prince George’s County public school board voted unanimously Thursday, Nov. 18 to revise this year’s school calendar that offers three-hour early dismissals for students and for schools to open a half-day before Christmas Eve.
The 2021-22 calendar also shows schools will be closed Feb. 22 and employees who work 10 and 11 months of the year can leave work three hours early. Similar to students, those employees would also have a three-hour early dismissal on Jan. 21, March 4 and May 13.
“We’re giving hours back in acknowledgment of the large workload for our employees . . . ” said board member Raaheela Ahmed. “But this cannot be the end. It has to be the beginning of the continuous focus as a board around mental health for our employees, for our students, for our parents and for our community.”
The one caveat, according to the resolution: additional school hours may be added to the end of the school year because of “snow days or delayed openings due to inclement weather.” In other words, the last day of school could extend beyond June 24.
More than 100 public school educators, administrators, parents and other supporters appeared to appreciate the school board’s gesture but rallied before the school board meeting in front of the public-school headquarters in Upper Marlboro to say “that’s not enough.”
The county’s teacher union outlined a list of demands that include the following:
- Evaluate the compensation for substitutes to provide an equitable pay structure that incentivizes accepting short term positions at chronically understaffed schools.
- Provide administrative assistants with training in special education paperwork and compliance to support and improve the completion of required documentation.
- Release students two hours early every Wednesday to provide additional planning time for educators.
Marvin Burton, a special education sixth-grade teacher at Drew Freeman Middle School in Forestville, said he’s experienced positives (being with the students in class) and negatives (additional online documentation) during the current year.
“I am certainly glad we have moved towards the 21st century and are utilizing technology. But we’ve also made sure it’s easier for workloads to be increased because everything’s virtual and you don’t realize you’ve had eight meetings in a day,” said Burton, who’s taught at Drew Freeman for almost 10 years — 14 years in total in Prince George’s.
“You’ve got to focus on what’s right. If you keep that in the front of your mind for the students, then I believe it will go by well. I can’t think about how much time I am putting in because if you think about it, it gets crazy,” he said.
Some of the most rousing remarks during the rally came from Jeffrey Parker, president of the ASASP (Association of Supervisory & Administrative School Personnel) union for administrators and supervisors.
Parker, principal at Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro, summarized how the school system doesn’t have enough substitutes and how teachers must often cover other classes. He said some students continue to curse at teachers and bus drivers and “they’re getting away with it and I’m limited with what I can do about it.”
“We have dedicated ourselves and we are committed to giving [students] our very best. But at the same time, we must demand that those we work under treat us fairly, pay us fairly and respect us each and every day,” he said. “When we don’t get that, we need to come down to School Lane every now and then and make some noise.”
Kayla Moore, who taught for three years at University Park Elementary in Hyattsville, left the Prince George’s school system to start this school year teaching kindergarten for D.C. public schools.
“I could not afford to work in Hyattsville and live in Prince George’s County. D.C. paid more. I just needed to be able to afford to live somewhere,” she said. “I am here for this rally . . . to show support. I still love all the Prince George’s County students, teachers and everyone.”