What Happened at the Stafford Teacher Convocation?


Will Hagaman

Edited Stafford County Public Schools logo to reflect the main convocation issue, the heat.

Will Hagaman, Editor in Chief

Before the official school year had started, teachers and other Stafford County Public Schools (SCPS) staff were already hard at work, preparing resources for the students that were soon to arrive into their care. 

During this preparation period, a teacher convocation was held, where over 4,300 SCPS staff would gather in the Virginia Credit Union Stadium. This convocation was held to, as the superintendent Dr. Taylor put it, “[…] it provided us an opportunity to do a couple of things: one for us to network with colleagues throughout the district, for us to have a professional development speaker and somebody to help unite us as a school system as an organization, and it was also an opportunity for us to launch our new strategic plan.”

This was the first time a convocation of this size was held by SCPS, with nearly every educator in attendance.

It was uncharted territory for SCPS. The convocation started at 9:30 a.m. and was supposed to last until noon, but in an hour and a half, the convocation would be called off due to the immense heat.

The weather was supposed to be mild, with the administration planning on this type of weather.

 “So we were looking at a weather forecast that projected temperatures during our event to be in the low to mid 80’s. The humidity was very high. We were also predicting about 65% cloud cover at that time.” stated Dr. Taylor.

The weather was not as tranquil as expected. Temperatures gradually rose to the 90’s and cloud cover dissipated, and in the crowded stadium with high humidity, this created an extremely hostile heat for those in attendance.

“I saw a person being carried by like three different individuals, and going behind the sections of the front out to the front. And so I think they ended up putting them in the AC area that the Fred. Nat’s stadium has. And after that is when I noticed there was like maybe a person, it felt like a person every 10 minutes, probably even less than that, like a person every eight minutes was being carried to the air-conditioned, larger viewing section. And so it seemed pretty intense.” said a teacher who attended the convocation.

As the heat rose, some teachers in attendance started to get ill. 93 teachers were eventually treated for heat-related illness at the convocation or at their respective schools.

“So it was a wide range, you know, folks who received medical attention for a couple of hours, versus folks who just needed to hydrate and receive ice, it was just a wide range, the vast majority just needed to cool down and receive hydration and ice. But again, it was under the care of an EMT or a nurse. So we count that as medical treatment.” said Dr. Taylor

Those in attendance of the convocation were eventually dismissed at 11 a.m. missing the last hour of the convocation, which was supposed to include the guest speaker Hamish Brewer, games, and lunch given to the attendees. The staff were supposed to be dismissed by their educational fields, such as Social Studies or English, but were instead quickly ushered out by their school group.

“They said it’s been you know, it’s too hot, we can’t keep going. And so it was awful in that moment, because everyone is kind of rushing out while they’re still trying to carry people out and still trying to carry like Gatorade to people and stuff” said a teacher who attended the convocation.

A majority of staff members were not allowed to use their own vehicles to go to the stadium, so many used their respective school buses with their fellow teachers of the same school. So, in the immense heat and in the poorly air-conditioned buses teachers stayed until they reached their school, where they could only then go home (unless of course, they needed to be treated for heat-related illness.)

The heat was the main issue with the convocation, although logistics and planning were lacking in some areas. Such as the school system not doing a dry run of the convocation, or having any plan “B”. But, again, the heat was the main contributor to the issues at the convocation.

“About halfway through the speech, I just saw my arm turning a scary color. So I decided to go up. But as I was walking up, I started to notice my co-workers had sunscreen coming off their face, because it was so hot, the sunscreen started coming off their face. And everybody was asking for tissues because it was getting in their eyes and burning their eyes.” stated another teacher that had attended the conference.

Educators were also required to attend this convocation, and if they wished to not attend they would have had to use one of their leave days.

“It was mentally draining to watch people be in distress like that. So hopefully, that was necessary, but I felt and I still do feel that there needs to be a little bit more openness, like I said, to someone not feeling capable physically of doing something. Because that’s always been something with teaching that depending on the year that I’ve worked in Stafford, I have felt in degrees, sometimes, like, I’m expected to do work when I don’t physically feel well. And that concerns me. And that’s what I’m hoping that the county will take into further consideration. That, you know, I understand we’re understaffed, I understand that there’s a lot of expectation, but if a teacher really does not feel well, he or she shouldn’t be expected to do something.” said the anonymous teacher.

There has been pushback due to the convocation, such as the pushback from the Stafford Education Association (SEA) with the organization making requests of the school board in light of what occurred at the convocation. The requests were announced on their twitter page with 4 key requests.

The first request is to excuse the leave for those who did not attend the convocation, as well as excuse the leave for any educator who is experiencing negative health conditions due to the convocation. The second is to conduct an investigation into what went wrong at the convocation and what should be changed for future events. The third is for future events to give educators with fragile health an option to opt-out of said events, with no leave taken. 

The fourth and final request is the largest, with SEA requesting $200 in restitution payments for full time staff, and $100 for part time staff, all by Dec. 1. 

The second request, on investigating the convocation and its planning, was completed, with Dr. Taylor presenting the County’s findings in a detailed report during a School Board meeting on Aug. 23.

For large future events, Dr. Taylor stated that planning would begin 12 months before the event, so they can properly prepare for said event. As well as more preparation for future events, such as dry-runs, backup plans, and metrics to anticipate if weather conditions are appropriate for an event.

The meeting did not address the other requests by SEA. But Dr. Taylor did say in an earlier meeting that, “You know, we’re looking at all of their requests, I’m not sure that a lot of their requests are feasible. You know, we definitely have looked at ways that we can support our staff within our means which are limited. So you know, we’re definitely open to having a dialogue and a conversation with our Stafford Education Association. But, you know, we’re still looking at that.”

“You know, it was definitely planned with the best of intent, but our execution fell short. And we’re just sorry that we had folks that had a bad experience, because that was definitely not what we intended.” stated Dr. Taylor.


(The two teachers who were interviewed for this article have chosen to remain anonymous, due to the nature of their claims in regards to the teacher convocation planned by their administration.)