Loudoun Co. proposes 4 extra student days off so teachers can finish required trainings

Loudoun County is proposing closing schools to students on four days next year to give teachers enough time to finish required trainings.

The latest proposal, presented to the school board Tuesday night, involves closing school on a few days that the school district considers “stand-alone days” — days that fall in between weekends and holidays. While teachers participate in trainings, schools would be closed Oct. 4, Nov. 4, Jan. 28 and June 16 as part of the 2024-25 school year.

The idea comes after community feedback expressing frustration with the school division’s initial proposal. Earlier this month, Superintendent Aaron Spence floated the idea of starting school two hours late on 16 days next year. But the county received more than 2,000 responses to its feedback form, and many were critical of the late starts.

The extra time is needed for teachers to complete trainings that the state requires, school system leaders say. They’re tied to the Virginia Literacy Act and new math and English Standards of Learning. The county already has three professional development days built into its calendar for the next school year, but Spence said they’re unlikely to be enough for teachers to meet all the requirements.

“They need to time to wrestle with and apply new concepts, and they need to see results in their students before they’ll commit to sustaining new practices,” Board Chair Melinda Mansfield said. “This takes time and lots of practice, coaching and support, and hence, the VDOE recommendation of one module per month. We cannot risk that people do the bare minimum to meet requirements because that’s not how this works and will not lead to lasting change.”

The proposed additional days off are those on which the school district is expecting many students to be absent and many teachers to request substitute teacher coverage, Chief Academic Officer Ashley Ellis said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“I do want to emphasize what is being proposed is a one-time solution for the ’24-25 school year, to specifically address the spike in requirements from VDOE,” Ellis said. “Staff is not recommending a permanent change in future calendars.”

With regard to feedback on the additional closures, some families say it’s easier to find day care for a full day instead of a fraction of one, Ellis said. The professional development would be spread out throughout the year, and there wouldn’t be an impact on meal service, transportation or bell schedules.

The school district considered several alternatives, including the late arrival time, early release days, more pay for teachers to finish trainings on their own time and additional development days at the start of the year, which would push students’ start date to after Labor Day.

The challenges of the four additional days off for students include lost instructional time and the need for child care for school district staff and their families. However, Loudoun County students exceed state requirements of daily instructional time by 45 minutes per day, so the district would still meet the required 180 days or 990 hours of annual instruction, even with giving students four more days off.

Spence previously said the extra trainings are the result of new standards covering multiple subjects getting rolled out at the same time. At Tuesday’s meeting, Ellis detailed the dozens of hours of trainings teachers in different grade levels and subject areas will be required to participate in.

The school board still has to approve the final plan.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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