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Tipsheet

Here We Go: 'Burned Out' Teachers Now Demanding More School Closures, Half Days

Richard Alan Hannon/The Advocate via AP

When I first started seeing headlines about this phenomenon, I thought -- naively, of course -- that they might apply to a tiny handful of places, but couldn't really represent an emerging trend.  Surely teachers unions and government school officials realize that their opportunity to reduce or suspend in-person instruction for children has long since passed.  Especially with all of the evidence that has emerged on learning loss and other profound harms inflicted upon kids locked out of classrooms, further fortified by an education-related revolution from Virginia parents in last month's gubernatorial election.  I wrongly assumed that the deeply negative affects on students, combined with the political pain visited upon the education establishment's political party, would foreclose the possibility of continued, unpopular closures.  I was wrong.  In October, I saw this story out of Virginia, weeks before the aforementioned election:

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A school district in Virginia announced Wednesday it would suspend its operations for the first week in November, including two days "in the interest" of its faculty's "mental health." Richmond Public Schools will close Nov. 1-5, as teachers and staff are at risk of burnout, according to Superintendent Jason Kamras. "Over the last couple of weeks, I've heard directly from dozens of teachers, principals, and support staff about how stressful this year has been," Kamras said. "Many have shared that they're on the brink of burning out — even leaving — and it's only October." Richmond public schools will close on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3 for mental health days, Nov. 2 for Election Day, Nov. 4 for the Diwali holiday, and Nov. 5 for parent-teacher conferences, according to Kamras's letter to parents. The time off is needed to release the mental stressors on Richmond Public Schools instructors, Kamras said.

An isolated incident? Apparently not, as the Wall Street Journal reported a few weeks later:

School districts nationwide are canceling classes for what they are calling mental-health days, saying students and staff need the breaks to handle the pressure of returning to school during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is another way this era for K-12 education is unlike any other, as educators rush to make up for lost instructional time while simultaneously managing last-minute closures for quarantine, a lack of bus and cafeteria staff and, now, the need to take a break from stress. The practice caught on in early November when many districts in the Southeast opted to create a long weekend by canceling school on Nov. 12, the Friday after Veterans Day, according to Burbio, a Pelham, N.Y., data company that is monitoring K-12 school closures in 5,000 districts across the country. The announcement of closures accelerated in the middle of the month as many school districts decided to cancel classes the entire week of Thanksgiving, said Dennis Roche, Burbio president. “The volume was really high, really quickly,” he said. There have been at least 3,145 school closures specifically for mental-health needs so far this year...
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Then came a major New York Times piece last week highlighting the accelerating phenomenon:

After a few months of relative calm, some public schools are going remote — or canceling classes entirely — for a day a week, or even for a couple of weeks, because of teacher burnout or staff shortages...[some] of these districts have closed with very little notice, sending parents to find child care, as well as summon the wherewithal to supervise remote learning. Beyond the logistics, many parents are worried that with additional lost days of in-person school, their children will fall further behind...School districts cited various reasons for the temporary closings, from a rise in Covid-19 cases to a need to thoroughly sanitize classrooms. But for many schools, the remote learning days — an option that did not exist before the pandemic — are a last-ditch effort to keep teachers from resigning. They are burned out, educators said, after a year of trying to help students through learning loss, and working overtime to make up for labor shortages.

Read the whole thing.  The story quotes astounded and understandably angry parents, and also union boss Randi Weingarten who went out of her way to cite battles over masks and Critical Race Theory as factors contributing to the stress and burnout. Weingarten's position is almost admirably consistent: Teachers are put-upon victims, and problems are parents' fault. And here's the Washington Post's coverage of a spin-off version of the new wave of 'mental health' school closures in the greater DC area:

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In a school year widely described as the most grueling of the pandemic, schools have come up with at least one fix for teacher burnout: more half days. In Virginia’s Hampton Roads area, Suffolk Public Schools is shortening instructional hours every other Wednesday to help take the pressure off beleaguered educators. In Maryland, at least six school districts have remade their calendars for this school year to add in more early-release days. Rick Briggs, chief academic officer in Maryland’s Wicomico County school district, which includes the Eastern Shore city of Salisbury, said his system converted seven full days to half days because of “the stress and the anxiety and the wearing-down of staff like none of us have ever seen before....We want our teachers to be fresh, to be energized, to be in a better spot"...Some parents say losing in-person instruction is what students can least afford after the shuttered schools and virtual education of the pandemic. Carol Vidal, a Baltimore County parent who testified last week against the shift, told state officials that the trend in Maryland seemed at odds with the state’s decision to require school systems to provide 180 days of in-person learning this year. Half days don’t affect the 180-day count, though school systems must also meet state requirements for total hours of school...“Instruction time is really important,” she said in an interview. “They said we were going to be catching up this year.” She added: “Instead of finding other creative solutions, the first thing they do is close school.”
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One union leader is quoted calling the move toward half days an "important step," necessarily suggesting that it's not enough.  Nothing ever is, naturally.  Half days will "count" as instruction days, but we all know how students mentally check-out of half days -- which, incidentally, are quite disruptive to working parents' schedules. The reality is that many adults have spent the last year-and-a-half putting children last while ignoring actual science while performatively fetishizing "Science." And now that the time for systemic COVID closures is over (they were never justified, as proven all over the world and in many places across America), some of these same adults are dreaming up new reasons to keep kids out of classrooms.

I unloaded on all of this on my radio show, noting that teachers already receive much more time off from work than average workers -- and pointing out that many essential workers and healthcare workers haven't allowed stress and burnout to stand in the way of them doing their jobs, even during the teeth of the pandemic. Closing schools in large (mostly blue) swaths of the country for a year was a disaster. Forcing additional closures due to "stress" is absolutely outrageous, especially because the root cause of some of the new pressures stem from previous closures. I am in awe:

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I'll leave you with this, as cartoon villain Weingarten insists that additional "investments" are needed:

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