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'Our teachers are tired' | Norfolk Public Schools introduces plan to help teachers' mental health

As school divisions in Hampton Roads battle staffing shortages and burnout, Norfolk Public Schools joins others in making changes for their staff.

NORFOLK, Va. — Between the pandemic, virtual learning and short staffing, it’s been a hard year for teachers.

"I’m aware that our teachers are tired. I’m aware that they need some type of relief," said Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Byrdsong.

Now, Norfolk Public Schools is following other Hampton Roads school divisions in taking steps to ease the burden on staff.

"They’re working hard, they’re willing to continue to work hard, but they need us to have a heart," said Chief Schools Officer, Dr. Lynnell Gibson.

The division plans to close schools on November 24th for an extended Thanksgiving break, add teacher workdays in January, February and March and schedule an extended Memorial Day weekend.

"It’s a good balance of maintaining the integrity of the instructional day and letting our teachers know that we have listened," said Byrdsong.

Leaders are also going to start paying teachers who use their planning time to substitute in other classrooms. They’ll pay them retroactively from September 8th.

"We have some schools where the teachers don’t get subs, so they have to cover constantly. So, that means that they’re working all day except for their 30-minute break," Gibson said.

They’ll also implement “wellness champions” in schools to support mental health activities.

"Our plans to support teachers and staff will allow everyone more time for planning reflection and feeling valued," Gibson told the school board.

RELATED: After a tough year and a half, Suffolk Public Schools work to ease burden for teachers

Portsmouth Public Schools also announced it's making some scheduling changes to help their teachers.

That division will extend Thanksgiving break by two days, add five asynchronous days throughout the school year. Two remaining teacher workdays were classified as telework days for all employees, as well.

RELATED: Teachers needed in several Hampton Roads school divisions

During that Norfolk school board work session, the board also got an update on the employee vaccine mandate passed on October 6th. 

That mandate says employees must be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

RELATED: Norfolk Public Schools staff must get vaccinated or have weekly tests as of January 3

Right now, 85% of staff are fully vaccinated, 12% are unvaccinated and 3% are partially vaccinated.

Employees who are partially vaccinated or are planning to schedule their shot must provide proof of full vaccination by January 3.

As schools hire new teachers, they'll have to provide proof of vaccination or agree to the testing as part of the onboarding process.

The board did clarify that if an employee won’t submit to either a vaccine or weekly testing, they won’t remain employed based on the resolution, but each person will be handled on a case-by-case basis.