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Staff photo by Monique Brand / With an 8-1 vote, Hamilton County teachers will now have extra days off this fall semester.

Hamilton County teachers will now have extra break time this semester that can be used for a mental health day, planning ahead or just simply enjoying a day off.

After a nearly one-hour discussion Thursday night, the school board voted 8-1 to offer six days — three days off and three days with a reduced, remote working option — dedicated as free time for educators.

The district still has five stockpile days remaining for inclement weather, and the schedule change mostly affects days surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday.

School board member Rhonda Thurman of Soddy-Daisy was the sole no vote, which she attributed to the timing of the proposal and consideration of working parents having to readjust child-care schedules, if they can afford child care at all.

Board member Joe Smith, along with downtown Chattanooga representative Tiffanie Robinson, initiated the calendar change consideration. Smith sent an email to Superintendent Bryan Johnson and board members on Tuesday regarding his proposal.

"Financial constraints prevented us from being able to do some of the things we have wanted to do for teachers because of the pandemic, but we can give them more time — more time to prepare for our students, more time to take care of themselves, more time to reflect and refine their teaching," Smith said in his email.

During Thursday's meeting, district officials voiced their concerns and opinions.

Thurman asked board members if they considered the possible impact on parents.

"Parents make the plans, they have jobs. And it also costs money to put kids in child care," she said.

Robert Harris, a Hamilton County father of three, told the Times Free Press on Friday that he agrees with Thurman about the timeline of the schedule change.

"The first off day is Oct. 9. That's a little over three weeks away," Harris said, adding that he is fortunate enough to have child care but feels bad for those who can't afford it.

Other parents don't feel the same — commenting with praises on the district's public Facebook page.

"Thank you for the break for our teachers, students and parents ... maybe you could consider looking at these types of breaks next year too," a Sale Creek mother wrote.

Hamilton County teachers' days off

The approved changes are as follows:

Oct. 9 - No school for staff or students (Stockpiled day)
* Friday before Fall Break, previously scheduled as regular school day
* 11 childcare sites will be open

Nov. 11 - Remote Day (No synchronous learning required)
* Previously scheduled early release day, half-day for students
* Teachers can choose to work remotely or in the building
* 11 childcare sites will be open

Nov. 23-24 - No school for staff or students (stockpiled day)
* Previously scheduled as regular school days
* Thanksgiving week

Dec. 18 - Remote Day (No synchronous learning)
* Previously scheduled early release day
* Teachers can choose to work remotely or in the building
* 11 childcare sites will be open

Feb. 3 - Remote Day (No synchronous learning)
* Previously scheduled early release day
* Teachers can choose to work remotely or in the building
* 11 childcare sites will be open

There will be five stockpile days for inclement weather

Source: Hamilton County Schools

Deputy Superintendent Nakia Towns told the board members that the days off can help teachers and that the district is working with 37 community partners to develop virtual learning centers districtwide.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Schools announces leadership changes)

Steve Highlander, who represents the Harrison and Ooltewah areas, said while he agrees with Thurman on how hard it could be for parents, his vote takes account of how the pandemic is affecting teachers.

Board member Karitsa Jones suggested having parent and teacher input before the board moves forward. The Brainerd area representative eventually voted in approval of the schedule change, saying that she is for mental health days and self-care.

Tucker McClendon of East Ridge said during these unprecedented times, the calendar adjustment is a good use of the district's off days.

Signal Mountain representative Marco Perez said the opportunity is important to give teachers a break.

"I don't want to lose teachers when it is already hard to recruit teachers," he said.

Jeanette Omarkhail, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, told the Times Free Press the board's vote "firmly supports a foundation for learning."

"They saw past mere rhetoric and have given those who serve selflessly in our classrooms the opportunity to replenish, re-energize and rededicate themselves afresh to teaching excellence," she said by email.

She also agrees with Perez and other board members who said that the adjustment will help with teacher retention, which is part of the district's Future Ready initiative.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Schools will switch to five days a week of in-person learning on Monday)

"HCEA has had discussions with Dr. Johnson and his staff requesting compensation for all the unpaid time and efforts they are giving in the form of time. The need for focused planning time has also been a conversation that we have had and many educators have had with the Central Office."

The district is waiting until February 2021 to adopt a calendar for the 2021-2022 school year.

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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