Nelson County schools were closed on Friday, October 20, 2023, due to a severe staffing shortage that affected the entire district. This was the second day in a row that the schools had to cancel classes, as the district struggled to find enough teachers, bus drivers, and other staff members to operate safely and effectively.
The staffing crisis came amid a heated controversy over the district’s plan to merge its two high schools, Thomas Nelson and Nelson County, into one campus. The school board voted 3-2 on Tuesday night to continue developing the merger plan, despite strong opposition from students, staff, and parents.
Why did the staff shortage happen?
According to Superintendent Wes Bradley, the staffing shortage was partly a result of the ongoing facility planning decisions. He said in an email to families that some staff members had expressed their dissatisfaction with the merger plan by calling in sick or resigning.
Bradley also acknowledged that the district was facing other challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, low enrollment, budget cuts, and teacher retention issues. He said the district was working hard to recruit and retain qualified staff members, and to provide them with adequate support and resources.
How did the students and parents react?
Many students and parents were frustrated and disappointed by the school closures, as they disrupted their learning and routines. Some students said they felt like they were missing out on valuable education and extracurricular activities. Some parents said they had to scramble to find childcare or alternative arrangements for their children.
However, some students and parents also used the opportunity to voice their opposition to the merger plan, and to demand more transparency and input from the district. On Wednesday and Thursday, hundreds of students and staff members staged walkouts and protests outside the district office and the high schools. They held signs, chanted slogans, and expressed their concerns about the potential impact of the merger on their education, programs, teachers, and school culture.
What is the future of the merger plan?
The merger plan is still in its early stages, and no formal decision has been made yet. The district said it was exploring the possibility of combining the two high schools on a connected campus, which would offer more educational and leadership opportunities for students. The district also said it was conducting a feasibility study, seeking feedback from stakeholders, and evaluating various options and scenarios.
However, the merger plan has faced strong resistance from many students, staff, and parents who fear that it would result in program cuts, teacher layoffs, overcrowding, loss of identity, and reduced quality of education. They have called for more communication, collaboration, and consideration from the district before making any drastic changes.
The school board is expected to hold another meeting on November 7 to discuss the merger plan further.