District plans to give teachers a 30-minute break
The state has mandated that certain teachers get 30 minutes of time off every day.
The Georgetown County School District wants to go a step farther and give all its teachers a break.
“It’s an interesting law and policy on the surface. Who wouldn’t support making sure that those 30 minutes are protected?” Superintendent Keith Price told the school board this week. “But the details involved are where all the challenges come in in making sure each campus has a plan to make sure that’s protected and they’ve been working on quite a number of strategies to get that in place.”
The state law requires school districts to provide “unencumbered time” to all teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade and all those who teach special education students at least 20 percent of the time.
The policy that the school board is considering would apply to pre-K through 12th-grade teachers.
“They recognized that most middle and high school teachers are already provided with that time in a planning period, based on the way that middle and high school schedules are set, but frequently our elementary school and self-contained special education teachers weren’t getting that same break,” said Lindsay Anne Thompson, the district’s attorney.
The policy defines unencumbered time as 30 consecutive minutes during a regular workday where teachers are provided time that is self-directed and free from assigned duties or responsibilities, including direct instruction or supervision of students.
“The administrators here, as a group, recommended that this policy extend for basically everyone,” Thompson said. “So instead of just covering our K to 5 teachers, it would cover our pre-K to 12th teachers.”
That includes those who teach in special areas and elective subjects, who often don’t have planning periods.
“We wanted to make sure those folks are included here as well even though the law does not specifically require that,” Thompson said.
The policy would not restrict a teacher from voluntarily giving up their free time, as long as they were paid for doing so. The state law does not require that the free time occur at the same time every day.
Each school principal will be required to come up with a plan for someone else to supervise a teacher’s students during their free time.
Board Chairman Bill Gaskins asked when teachers would host parent-teacher conferences or attend other required meetings.
Some principals “are actually coming up with some really inventive schedules and really creative planning to kind of address that,” Thompson said. “Some of that will vary from school to school.”
Price said teachers can choose to host parent-teacher conferences during their free time; the district just can’t require them to do so.
According to Price, the district has been studying this for more than a year and elementary school principals’ biggest challenging is finding ways to “protect” those 30 minutes for teachers.
“They’re looking at some scheduling flexibility that they have to try to guarantee that time for our teachers,” Price said. “There’s still some other time in there where some of them might have that time built around the lunch period, where they’ve got enough support staff where they can supervise lunch.”
The challenge with that plan, Price added, is the school needs to have staff in place to supervise students in cafeterias.
“As you know, with our youngest learners, [it’s] ‘can you help me open my milk carton? Can you open my chip package?’ ” Price said. “It requires a lot of hands on deck to make lunch flow seamlessly. It’s something cafeteria staff would not be able to do.”
During budget presentations, Waccamaw Intermediate School principal Travis Klatka told the board he and the elementary school principals would like an administrative aide position added at their schools.
Board Member Patti Hammel asked whether those aides could help with free time.
“Absolutely,” Price said.