ACPS to close Wednesday, citing staff leave requests

ACPS to close Wednesday, citing staff leave requests
(Courtesy photo)

Updated 9 a.m. March 9.

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Alexandria City Public Schools officials announced Monday that schools in the district would be closed Wednesday, citing more than 300 staff requests for the day off, coinciding with the planned Day Without a Woman protest across the country.

“This is not a decision that was made lightly,” Schools Superintendent Alvin

Crawley said in a statement. “The decision is based solely on our ability to provide sufficient staff to cover all our classrooms, and the impact of high staff absenteeism on student safety and delivery of instruction. It is not based on a political stance or position.”

The day was considered a teacher work day for all staff, and students will not be required to make up the day at the end of the year.

The Day Without a Woman strike, which falls on the U.N.-designated International Women’s Day, was planned by the organizers behind the Women’s March on Washington in January, and encouraged women to take the day off from “paid and unpaid labor.” Participants were urged to avoid shopping — except at women- and minority-owned small businesses — and to wear red clothing in solidarity.

The district still provided breakfast and lunch for all students who came in at the following schools: Patrick Henry Elementary School, Jefferson-Houston School, Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, William Ramsay Elementary School, Francis Hammond Middle School and T.C. Williams.

But the news frustrated some parents, who had little time to arrange for child care or secure a day off themselves. Hope Wolf, whose sons attend George Mason Elementary School, said she thinks the closure actually works against the motives of the organizers of the strike.

“My impression of what they’re trying to achieve is to create an environment where women are given opportunities to advance in organizations, to be compensated fairly and to have some degree of success in the workplace,” Wolf said. “Yet those of us who have attained those things are, I think, being disproportionately impacted in this situation.

“We’re in positions of responsibility where we can’t just decide on a day’s notice that we’re not coming into work, because there’s a lot that’s dependent upon us.”

But other parents were more supportive of the decision. Sandy Marks, whose son attends Charles Barrett Elementary School, said she was proud of ACPS officials’ willingness to go to bat for their teachers.

“I understand that it puts some people in a position where they have to scramble and look for child care, but I’m pretty disappointed with some, if not all, of the community’s outrage that the teachers would strike as if this were a teacher’s strike, when in fact it’s a broader women’s strike,” Marks said.

“It seems to me that we ought to be looking at the reason why teachers are calling in and supporting the Day Without a Woman without looking at our own inconvenience. What would cause our amazing, dedicated and committed teachers to step away from their posts for the day?”

Kelley Smith said her daughter attends kindergarten at Mount Vernon Community School, and she has been impressed with the school community’s efforts to help each other out.

“I’m in a position where I’m in between jobs — I actually start a new job next week, so I just happen to be home this week — and I’m helping a friend with coverage for her kids,” she said. “We’ve been reaching out to families on Facebook to see if there are others who need help [securing child care].”

All Campagna Center early childhood education programs took place as scheduled, as well as all after-school programs. The center’s before-school program at Samuel Tucker and James K. Polk elementary schools were cancelled.

Alexandria was not the only city to cancel school to accommodate staff leave requests. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools in North Carolina announced last week that public schools there also would be closed to coincide with the women’s strike. And Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland announced Tuesday they would be closed as well.

Former Republican City Councilor Frank Fannon decried the ACPS employees who requested leave.

“The selfish actions of 300 teachers and staff has caused the lives of thousands of Alexandrians to be disrupted on Wednesday,” Fannon said in a statement. “Working parents will be scrambling for child care and will suffer lost wages for missing work, many of these women living paycheck to paycheck. [I am] disappointed in the lack of leadership from the superintendent and school board to let this happen.”

ACPS spokeswoman Helen Lloyd said closing schools was a difficult decision given its effect on families.

“We understand there’s always an impact when you make a decision like this, and we wanted to make sure to have as minimal an impact as possible, which is why we’re opening our schools for breakfast and for lunch — six across the division,” Lloyd said. “The problem is, whereas now we have criticism from parents about the fact that we have to close schools that day, we would also face criticism if we had large numbers of students sitting in the gym watching videos all day without the proper supervision or instruction.

“And there potentially could be an incident that involves safety. So we’d rather face the criticism for closing schools instead of jeopardizing the safety of our students.”