CENTREVILLE — After postponing their vote to gauge public opinion, the Queen Anne’s County Board of Education unanimously decided Wednesday, Dec. 1 to convert five school days into half days.

The modified 2021-22 school year for Queen Anne’s County Public Schools (QACPS) will turn the following into half days: Wednesday, Dec. 22; Friday, March 4; Friday, March 18; Thursday, April 14 and Friday, May 27.

Several of these changes coincide with regularly scheduled holidays or breaks in session – school days, the board noted, that have lower attendance historically. The December date is the last day before winter break; April 14 is the Thursday before spring break; and May 27 is the Friday before Memorial Day, when schools will be closed.

“The five additional early dismissal days have been added to the 2021-22 school calendar for students and staff acknowledging the need to catch up, rest, and unwind,” QACPS Superintendent Dr. Patricia Saelens said in a statement. “These days promote self-care and the importance of social emotional well being for all.”

Saelens first requested the schedule change during the board’s Nov. 17 meeting, hoping to “promote self care” for staff members and citing the “significant situations” teachers have had to navigate throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Not wanting to randomly interject a schedule shift and even questioning the efficacy of half days, the board requested that a survey go out to the public asking for input on the proposed changes.

Over 1,800 responses were filed between the two board meetings, with at least 70 percent of respondents asking all five days to become early dismissal days.

With this information, as well as public comment from a few teachers and members of the Queen Anne’s County Education Association, the Board of Education voted 5-0 in favor of the changes.

“I’m not a fan of half days. I think we need our students in school now more than ever.” Board President Richard Smith said in a Dec. 6 interview, doubling down on the sentiment he expressed during both board meetings. “But our survey came back overwhelmingly that they wanted half days, so that’s where it went.”

Prior to the board’s vote, teachers voiced their appreciation for Saelens’ initial decision and recognition of their well-being, offering anecdotal evidence regarding the need for more planning time.

“I think it’s wrong to assume or expect that we would put our own lives and families on a back burner,” said Cecilia Mitchell, a fifth grade teacher at Grasonville Elementary. “My students are important, but I have personal responsibilities as well.

“I do not get the entire work day to accomplish my duties. I get one hour a day,” said Stephanie Anthony, a third grade teacher at Kennard Elementary School and secretary of the teachers union. “Teaching is an art, but it does not come without preparation and reflection if you want to do it well.”

Anthony pointed out that because the average class size at Kennard is 24 kids, the three minutes allotted for public comment at board meetings is mathematically more time than she has to directly instruct her students.

“Teachers are not perfect,” she continued. “We are not machines. We need compassion just like our students do, and that’s okay.”

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