ARLINGTON, Va. (7News) — Many local school districts have been planning for expanded summer school options, to give kids a chance to catch up after the pandemic forced months of all-virtual learning.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has even encouraged school districts to do so.
But in Arlington County, 7News has learned there aren't currently enough summer school teachers to meet the demand.
Arlington Public Schools sent a letter to families this week that said in part:
Despite having offered financial incentives to teachers to teach summer school, there are fewer applicants than the number of students who are eligible for summer instruction at the elementary level, making it impossible for APS to offer summer strengthening support to all eligible elementary students. Summer School is optional for teachers, and previous communication about the program indicated that final enrollment is contingent upon staffing.
As a result of a summer school teacher shortage, APS it says must now prioritize those students most in need of support and instruction during the summer months.
Based on available staffing, the APS letter to parents said the following elementary students have now been enrolled in the full in-person and full distance learning summer strengthening programs:
"We understand that this decision is disappointing to families whose children will not be able to participate in summer school and regret that we are unable to serve all elementary students who met the initial eligibility standards as we cannot accommodate waitlists," an APS spokesperson told 7News.
According to the school district, Arlington Public Schools originally notified about 5,300 elementary school students that they were eligible for summer school.
APS would need about 450 summer school teachers for that many students.
Currently, APS has only been able to hire about 175 summer school teachers for the elementary school level. Based on that staffing estimate, Arlington Public Schools says it will be able to only have about 2,000 elementary students in the summer school program.
"Heartbroken would be the best way to describe it," said Arlington parent Jennifer Cory. "My son was really looking forward to having the chance to go in-person and catch up for all that lost time he's had over the past year."
Cory said her 9-year-old son is struggling with dyslexia and has fallen behind during online learning. The family's hope was that summer school would help address some of the learning loss he experienced during the pandemic.
"We really thought this was a chance for him to come up to grade level for his reading, because that's where he really struggles," said Cory. "He knows that any additional help we can get him will only make him stronger and better."
Now, Cory says her son is one of the approximately 3,000 eligible elementary students who will now be left out of the summer school program in Arlington Public Schools.
"It's supposed to be Arlington's number one priority, to take care of the students," she said. " And it just has not felt that way this year."
A school district spokesperson said APS is committed to ensuring that those students will have "targeted instructional resources available to them throughout the summer via Lexia and DreamBox".
But Cory feels strongly that her son and other students deserve better.
"Every time we turn around, it's more disappointment," she said. "I believe this would have helped make up for a lot of the missed time he's had with schooling this year."
7News asked Arlington Public Schools whether middle and high schoolers could also be impacted by a summer school teacher shortage.
"We are seeing it across all grade levels. However, while we are still in process of determining staffing needs for secondary schools, we expect that there will be a similar challenge in hiring enough staff to meet student needs," an APS spokesperson said in an emailed response.
Teachers are not obligated to teach summer school since it falls outside of their contracts.
So far across all grade levels, Arlington Public Schools says less than 400 teachers have applied to teach summer school.
APS is hosting several upcoming virtual town halls focused on summer school. For more information on those town hall meetings, click here.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Arlington Education Association spoke out about the issue, with the head of the employees' union saying that Arlington Public Schools has unfairly put the burden of staff shortages for the summer on teachers.
"Teacher contracts end in June," wrote Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant. "Educators were offered a $1,000 bonus for certified teachers and a $500 bonus for support staff who wish to teach summer school. Summer school is not mandatory, yet the [APS] letter was written to imply it was the fault of staff that summer school had to be redesigned. Financial incentives for some do not cover childcare or the missed time with family."
Arlington Public Schools said the $1,000 bonus offered to teachers would be in addition to summer school pay, which is separate from the teachers' contract pay.
7News is also checking with other local school districts, to see whether they are dealing with similar summer school staffing shortages. Below are the responses we've gotten so far.
Prince William County Public Schools:
"This is still a very fluid situation for us, as we continue to register students. However, at this point, we are confident we will be able to appropriately staff the summer programs."
Loudoun County Public Schools:
"In LCPS, student enrollment for elementary summer school is ongoing. However, at this point, we anticipate being able to meet the needs of students in elementary summer school. In LCPS, summer school compensation for teachers and staff working in-person with students was increased to help secure staff for our summer school programs."
Fairfax County Public Schools:
A spokesperson told 7News that FCPS is in the midst of recruiting summer school teachers now.
"Some schools have been more challenging than others. We are trying to be flexible in our approach to recruitment," FCPS said in an emailed statement. ""At this point, we anticipate being able to serve all students that our instructional staff identify that would benefit from summer school and enable our students to finish the school year strong and be ready for the next school year."