Each week, Superintendent Larry Linthacum visits at least one of the 18 schools in the Jefferson City district.
He said recent visits have shown the teachers and staff, more than seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, were “stretched thin and honestly just overwhelmed.”
Linthacum and his administrative team decided to take action. They canceled classes Nov. 23-24 — Monday and Tuesday — giving teachers, staff and students a full week off for Thanksgiving.
“We felt they needed a break,” he said.
A change in state law allows districts to count the number of hours, not days, that school is in session, providing an unprecedented level of scheduling flexibility.
In Missouri, Jefferson City was among the first districts to revise the 2020-21 calendar to provide an extended Thanksgiving break — notifying families and staff by letter Oct. 26 — but others took note.
The Monett district announced the same calendar change in early November, citing the fluctuating quarantine numbers and a plan to deep clean buildings.
A letter to families explained that by following safety protocols, the schools have limited the spread of COVID-19. However, positive cases have caused students and employees to quarantine.
“An extended Thanksgiving break will provide a much-needed opportunity to allow more students to return while not adding to the quarantine list during the week,” according to the letter. “We trust this change will enable more kids and staff to be on campus as we begin December and close out the first semester.”
The Strafford district, near Springfield, has not extended Thanksgiving break. However, the administration recently canceled classes Nov. 2 to provide a long weekend.
“We gave all students and staff an extra day off just to kind of re-energize,” said Brett Soden, the superintendent.
He said the long weekend was much needed and additional schedule changes may be coming during the prolonged pandemic. “I can see if things do not change, I can see us using some more days like that.”
Linthacum said the 8,900-student Jefferson City district resumed in-person learning Aug. 24 and 16 percent of students opted to learn virtually.
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He said school employees have been asked “to do more and more” to educate students in-person and virtually and comply with new safety protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the school setting.
“They have been very flexible. To be really honest, it has been hard work,” he said.
“They have stepped up and they have been working extremely hard. We see how hard they have been working and we are extremely grateful for their dedication to the district and we felt a break was needed.”
In a letter announcing the change, Linthacum asked employees and families to follow safety guidelines as they celebrate the holiday so everyone can return healthy after the longer break. That includes:
- Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- Staying home if sick or experiencing symptoms related to COVID19;
- Maintaining social distance from those outside of the household;
- Avoiding large gatherings of 25 people or more;
- Wearing a mask, especially if social distancing is not possible.
Linthacum said he is hopeful the extra time off will allow students and staff to return with extra energy to complete the fall semester.
“We just hope that our staff come back with their batteries recharged and rejuvenated to make an impact. We want to ensure our students are on path to graduate and to reach their potential,” he said.
“We hope they come back ready to make a difference in the lives of their students.”
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.