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Richmond superintendent says school closure was not made to dismiss teachers' collective bargaining push

Posted at 1:08 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 14:22:10-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras announced Wednesday that Richmond Schools would now be closed the first week of November for mental health reasons. Schools were previously closed Tuesday (Election Day), Thursday (Diwali) , and Friday (Parent-teacher conferences) of that week.

Kamras announced the two extra days off would benefit the teachers' mental health.

This announcement comes as teachers in the Commonwealth are pushing for more bargaining power in the issues their schools are facing.

Kamras' announcement to close schools from November 1 thru November 5 came with mixed reviews.

Some parents and school board members said the decision was too sudden, but some teachers are thankful and note the time off is much needed.

“Teachers have been feeling just an incredible level of stress, anxiety, exhaustion," Kamras explained. "This is about trying to reduce as much of that as we can."

Some Richmond parents, like Scott Garnett, said this puts them in a bind for childcare

"I'm a small business owner, and my wife is a small business owner, but with a single parent trying to juggle this, it doesn't make any sense," said Garnett.

Kamras noted the district was already closed that Tuesday for Election Day, Thursday for Diwali, and Friday for parent-teacher conferences.

"Two isolated days in the middle of the week that is already off, those aren’t the best instructional days," he said. "I deeply apologize for any inconvenience this causes. I certainly understand the childcare burden, as a parent myself of two RPS students, and that’s why I ran this by our Parent Advisory Council and spoke to a number of families before making this decision."

Kamras said he also discussed the closure decision with the entire Richmond Public School board before Wednesday night’s announcement.

Richmond School Board Vice-Chair Jonathan Young told CBS 6 he doesn’t believe this should have been decided just 10 days out.

"This sudden, unexpected announcement is really a most unfortunate reminder of a year and a half that many of us would like to forget," Young noted.

Kamras also wants families to know this decision has nothing to do with the collective bargaining discussion from Monday night’s school board meeting. During that meeting, Kamras didn't comment on teachers having more of a voice in contract discussions.

"I support collective bargaining, and I look forward to engaging teachers on this," said Kamras. "I just think there are a lot of details to work through."

In addition to the week closure in November, Kamras also announced four new initiatives Wednesday night.

He is asking staff to put a moratorium on any new programs and focus on "doing less better." He also announced a campaign for lunch monitors, so teachers can get a lunch break.

He's giving principals the power to authorize more time for teacher planning during the school day, and he’s asking that $3 million in COVID-19 relief funding be reallocated for student and teacher mental health.