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For the next six weeks, all Jefferson County public schools will switch to an early dismissal schedule on Fridays as a result of staffing shortages.
Beginning Oct. 15 and continuing through Nov. 19, Jefferson County students will leave school three hours early every Friday. The idea is to allow teachers and staff time to catch up on lessons, clean classrooms and catch their breath.
The move comes in the wake of staffing shortages in the school system as a result of the pandemic.
“Teachers are giving up planning periods, principals are serving meals, central office staff are substitute teaching, and transportation supervisors are driving buses,” said Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools Bondy Shay Gibson in a statement to West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
“We have been all hands on deck for nearly two months. In some school districts, these short staffing issues have led to school closures or shifts to total remote instruction. [Jefferson County Schools] wants to avoid those scenarios, but as the largest employer in Jefferson County, we have an obligation to our staff to give them the tools they need to be successful serving your children.”
The six-week initiative is called Sustaining Excellence.
The school system has anywhere from 131 to 214 empty positions on a given day, with a daily average of about 150, according to Jefferson County Schools. They say this is either because it’s a vacancy with no one in the position or that person is simply absent.
Gibson hopes by dismissing students early on Fridays, this will help alleviate some of the pressure on teachers and staff.
“While we know this will be an inconvenience for our parents, it will serve many purposes that will enhance the quality of the time their children are in school,” said Jefferson County Schools (JCS) in a document detailing the Sustaining Excellence plan.
Jefferson County Schools said students will continue to receive breakfast and lunch on Fridays, and JCS hopes through the “consistency” of the new schedule rather than “sporadic closures,” it will help parents to plan accordingly.
The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) said it is not aware of any other West Virginia counties offering early dismissals as a result of staffing shortages.
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, staffing challenges within school systems have been reported across the country. While this issue is present in West Virginia, it is unclear how widespread school-related shortages are in the state.
According to the WVDE’s online K-12 Education Job Bank, which shows the number of vacancies in all K-12 education in the state, there are 320 job openings within all 55 county school systems.
Of that, there are reportedly only six vacancies in Jefferson County Schools, according to the WVDE. This does not align, however, with what has recently been reported by Jefferson County Schools.
A spokesperson from the WVDE said posting job openings to the WVDE’s website is a responsibility of an individual county and “posting jobs to this site is voluntary.”