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Thursday May 19th

Orange County Board of Commissioners talks mental health and racial equity in schools

<p>The Orange County Board of County Commissioners held a joint virtual meeting with Orange County Schools on Zoom on Sept. 23.&nbsp;</p>
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The Orange County Board of County Commissioners held a joint virtual meeting with Orange County Schools on Zoom on Sept. 23. 

The Orange County Board of Commissioners held a virtual joint meeting with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro County Schools Board of Education and the Orange County Schools Board of Education on Sept. 23 to discuss current mental health concerns and racial equity. 

The meeting delved into several topics, notably addressing wellness needs for students and staff as well as collaboration and support for racial equity initiatives. 

Charlos Banks, chief of school support and wellness for CHCCS, said that during the pandemic, mental health issues have become more important to professional and personal success.  

“Given the fact that at the beginning of the pandemic, we were placed in social isolation from our staff, students and families,” Banks said, "it became increasingly important for us to gather feedback on how they were doing and what their needs were."

Feedback was taken through a social and emotional learning screener, where 76 percent of elementary students provided favorable responses to the social and emotional climate in their schools. That's in comparison to 60 percent of students in secondary schools. 

Banks highlighted the work that has been done in CHCCS and OCS, including student advocacy surrounding mental health, as well as a five-part training program for staff members that teaches social and emotional skills.

Sherita Cobb, director of student support for OCS, mentioned North Carolina’s recent law, North Carolina General Statute 115C-81.25 and .60, that requires age-appropriate instruction on mental and emotional health as part of the healthful living curriculum. 

“As we began the school year, we thought about how we can support our students and staff,” Cobb said.

OCS has made social and emotional learning resources available, including access to lessons, support services and social and emotional learning surveys. 

Participants also discussed racial equity initiatives. Annette Moore, who serves as the human rights and relations director for Orange County, highlighted her ongoing efforts with the One Orange Racial Equity Plan. 

The plan's mission statement describes it as a commitment between Orange County leaders and staff to uncover and address implicit racial biases in our institutions to ensure that race can no longer be used to predict life outcomes in the community. 

“The pandemic exposed the gaps and services and how truly unprepared we were to help the community in a meaningful way,” Moore said. “Government as an institution is a need of self reflection – to understand where we succeeded, where we failed and why.”

In 2019, Orange County became one of the first counties in the South, along with 11 other local governments in North Carolina, to implement racial equity training through the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.

“This year-long training was designed to build capacity to address institutional instructional racism,” Moore said. "This training allowed us to build a shared network across jurisdictions, allowing us to illuminate things that prevent us from addressing structural racism.”

Rodney Trice, chief equity and engagement officer for CHCCS and Dena Keeling, chief equity officer for OCS, both expressed their support of the programs and are continuing to collaborate with Moore to educate students and staff.

“Schools alone will not be the entities that close these gaps, it will take the whole of the community approach,” Trice said. “Learning about One Orange and all of the metrics and data points we’re collecting; the schools need to be very much a part of that.”

To review the full meeting and agendas, visit


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