Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.
The state of summer school staffing
What it is: As the third school year to be impacted by the pandemic came to an end, some D.C.-area teachers turned their attention to time off and vacations. Others, though, started planning for summer sessions.
In addition to extended school year programming for students with individualized educational plans, some school systems offered additional summer opportunities.
Many of those programs begin this month, and most are completely staffed, school officials told me.
What it means: Last year, for one, school officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, scrambled to recruit teachers for its Extended School Year program, designed for students whose IEP teams recommend they attend summer programming so they don’t fall behind during long breaks.
Despite offering bonuses, the staff shortage forced the county to divide the summer programming into two sessions. The program’s start date was pushed back while recruitment efforts were underway.
Michelle Boyd, the county’s assistant superintendent for special services, told me last summer’s hiring struggles were unlike anything Virginia’s largest school system had ever experienced, likely because of the challenges of virtual learning and the fact that it was the first summer after COVID-19 vaccines were available.
To avoid a staffing shortage this summer, Boyd said, the county started communicating with staff earlier and increased its daily maximum rate for classroom-based teachers from $48 per hour to $68 per hour.
Fairfax also created a public dashboard depicting their progress in hiring for different roles.
About 3,800 students enrolled in the ESY program, and Boyd said 99.8% of staffing vacancies are filled.
The county has enough staff to work with all but nine students, Boyd said. The school system is working with their families to “ensure that those students get served.”
Moving forward, Boyd said, the county is considering offering a percentage of teachers extended contracts that would include ESY, “so that we would have a smaller pool to hire just specifically for that summer timeframe.”
Regional snapshot: A spokeswoman for Prince William County schools said about 9,400 students are enrolled in summer school, and that the programs are fully staffed.
All summer programs in Loudoun County “are a go,” a spokesman told me, but some groups had to be combined to make up for a staffing shortage.
Summer programs in Arlington County are fully staffed, a spokesman said.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, about 96% of ESY students have an in-person instructor, but 172 will participate in sessions virtually.
The county said it provided a pay premium to teachers in the program, but it’s still short by about 20 instructors.
For families impacted, the county plans to pay $19 per hour to support caregivers during the hours the program is running, a spokesman said, and plans to provide additional services for those students in the fall.
Chris Cram, the county’s communications director, said summer hiring “is especially a challenge. Our teachers are 10-month employees, it’s not required. We really value our summer programs, because it’s not only an opportunity for kids to catch up, but it’s an opportunity for kids to have enrichment to get ahead of their learning and explore other things as well.”
Talking points: Bob Marple, principal of Cedar Lane in Loudoun County, said the school is hosting its own summer programming, with 15 rising third, fourth and fifth graders participating. Marple said he didn’t have any difficulty recruiting teachers, but some colleagues have told him about staffing challenges.
Marple said he asked a student, “How was your first day of summer school? And he said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this was awesome. I can’t wait to come back tomorrow.’ That, to me, is a measure of incredible success that we have kids who are excited to come in and work with these teachers.”
Boyd, in Fairfax County, said recruiting could be challenging, “because even in a non-pandemic or traditional year, it’s hard work and rewarding work to be an educator. Our staff work really long hours during school, but also outside of the school day, to prepare and to individualize lessons to make sure they meet students’ needs.”
Tomas Rivera-Figueroa, the supervisor in Montgomery County’s recruitment office, said the county has met the challenge of filling the majority of positions, “but again, when you fall short, it’s still impacting students, and we’re very conscious of that.”
Virginia AG seeks to bar public from hearing on Loudoun Co. school board lawsuit
In a court filing, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is asking a judge to exclude the public from Monday’s hearing in the county School Board’s lawsuit seeking to halt further actions by a special grand jury.
I spoke to WTOP’s Neal Augenstein for the latest.
Q: What did Miyares say in the new filing?
A: On Monday, a Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the school board’s attempt to stop any further action by the special grand jury convened by Miyares. The school board is seeking a temporary injunction, which is what this three-hour hearing is supposed to be about.
Miyares has filed a motion seeking to close the hearing to the public and seal the transcript. He says opening the hearing to the public would damage the normally-secret criminal investigatory process of the grand jury. Miyares says there’s no First Amendment right of access to grand jury proceedings, and any hearings in which those grand jury proceedings are discussed.
Miyares says if the judge keeps the hearing open to the public, his office is still bound by grand jury confidentiality rules, so he’d be substantially limited in arguments he could make.
The attorney general said keeping the hearing public could prompt a scenario where the judge has to repeatedly open and shut the hearing: “To suppose that the First Amendment compels the court to conduct such hearings …by emptying the courtroom each time a grand jury matter reaches the tip of an attorney’s or the judge’s tongue is to suppose the ridiculous. We fully agree … that courts cannot conduct their business that way, nor should they be compelled to do so,” Miyares wrote, citing an earlier appeals opinion.
Q: What’s next?
A: That’s not clear. I assume the school board’s attorney will file a motion arguing to keep the court hearing open to the public. The judge will probably rule ahead of time on whether or not the hearing should be held in public. If not, the judge would rule on Monday, July 11, when the hearing is scheduled.
By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.
Student breakfast: Earlier this week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced $2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at expanding breakfast programs at more than 100 public and public charter schools.
The money can be used for things like buying meal service equipment, a news release said.
What Scott’s Reading
- 3 Va. universities to provide 24/7 mental health care for students [WTOP]
- DC announces 3-year investment aimed at supporting LGBTQ+ students [WTOP]
- Virginia designer’s HBCU clothing brand lands in department stores [WTOP]
- Prince George’s school board candidates pitch covid recovery plans [Washington Post]
- Two MCPS students died over July 4 weekend, district says [Bethesda Beat]
- Local nonprofit launches ‘Back to School’ donation drive to support FCPS students [FFX Now]
- Juvenile arrests in Arlington down significantly during past school year [Arl Now]
Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.
Sunshine state: We’re off to Florida for a long weekend, to hopefully be filled with time on the beach and with friends and family. A trip to family favorite Italian restaurant The Big Cheese may be in store, too.