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COVID protocols straining Richmond teachers: 'It's much more difficult'

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Posted at 3:16 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 18:14:48-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Imagine not being able to step aside from your job to use the bathroom for the entire workday.

That is exactly what some Richmond Public School teachers said is happening because of COVID-19 protocols.

"There are no subs. In a normal year you would be able to ask another teacher, 'Hey, do you mind watching my class for a few minutes just so I could run to the bathroom.' With the COVID protocols in place, it's much more difficult to do stuff like that," Emily Spencer, an intensive support teacher with RPS, said.

While Spencer continues to teach virtually, she said many of her peers no longer get a lunch break to heat up food, go to the bathroom, and make photocopies.

"A number of students are having to eat lunch in the classroom, and since we don't have the extra staff needed to cover those classes, teachers are now having to eat lunch with their students," Spencer said.

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Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras

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Superintendent Jason Kamras said the system is working to remedy those issues.

"We are doing a full-court press for lunch monitors, so if anyone is watching tonight and would like to serve as one, it is a paid position," Kamras said.

Still, Spencer said the state is requiring more student testing this year than in year's past, which is putting a lot of pressure on teachers.

"For a lot of us, we are expected to pretend like the last year and a half didn't happen. We're expected to pretend that our children are coming to us with all of the skills they would normally have. But the last year and a half did happen and it's completely unrealistic to pretend that it didn't," Spencer said.

Spencer said she and other teachers appreciate the days off, but she worries the short notice will put parents in a bad spot with childcare, and turn the public against some things teachers are fighting for, like collective bargaining and a shorter school day.

"I do worry the general public will be like, 'Oh, look at those demanding teachers, they just got a week off, why do they want more?'" Spencer said.

Kamras said the district will push pause on all new initiatives, and he told principals to ensure teachers have planning time.

He is also reallocating $3 million in federal funds for mental health support for students.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.