The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education voted unanimously on Thursday to add three mental wellness days to the 2021-2022 calendar, with the goal of giving students and faculty time off to decompress during the school year.
The board approved a resolution that will make Tuesday, Nov. 23, Wednesday, Nov. 24 and Monday, Feb. 14 designated mental wellness days for the district. On these days, students and faculty will not attend school.
Monday, Nov. 22 will be an optional teacher workday, so students will be out of school for the entire week of Thanksgiving. The resolution stated this would be helpful for parents and caregivers who are planning for childcare and holiday travel.
The board said it opted to implement this policy amid concerns from both students and faculty about their collective mental health as students have tried to adjust back to in-person learning since the start of the school year.
Madi Lin, a senior and the student body president of Chapel Hill High School, spoke to the board about what she described as “a mental health crisis at the high school level.” Lin is also the president of Chapel Hill High School's chapter of Bring Change 2 Mind, an organization dedicated to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“Our students are struggling," Lin told the board. "Our teachers and administration have been stretched even further than they had been while we were remote."
Brian Link, a teacher at East Chapel Hill High School, described some of the challenges that faculty have faced during the pandemic.
During the board's meeting on Thursday, Link said students and teachers have faced threats of weapons on campus, vandalism with racial slurs, verbal harassment and physical assault during the previous week alone. These events have placed strain on instructors who, Link said, are already tasked with teaching, providing counsel to students, monitoring halls and working lunch and bus duty.
He added that he believes time off may help provide some much-needed relief.
“Please pass the recommended calendar changes because otherwise, more days like this week are gonna happen,” Link said.
Though the board has now implemented these three mental wellness days, some believe that they should still be doing more to provide students with opportunities to participate in school events, which have currently been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Lin implored the board to revise the current lunch schedule.
“Currently, we have five different lunch periods at Chapel Hill (High School)," Lin said. "Students are unable to meet with teachers during this time and are unable to get the support, guidance and help they need to succeed in their classes."
She also said students were not sure as to why the district would not allow certain events to go on as planned, even with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
“High schools in Orange County are having outdoor concerts, as well as a homecoming festival later this fall," Lin said. "Students are confused and frustrated by these events, as we are unsure why they can occur in high schools in our county, yet our events are consistently denied.”
CHCCS Superintendent Nyah Hamlett agreed that the board should consider allowing more events.
“If we can have basketball games inside and spectators, then we can certainly have a concert and support our performing arts and our students who engage in school in that way,” Hamlett said.
Lin also said it was important to provide students with more ways to engage in extracurricular activities and communicate with teachers.
Following remarks from speakers, the board said it plans to provide students with more opportunities to participate in events.
“Moving forward, our schools will now develop plans that will permit school-sponsored outdoor events that follow COVID protocols as well as school-sponsored indoor events that support the arts and other extracurricular activities," Andy Jenks, CHCCS chief communications officer, said in an interview with The Daily Tar Heel. "We look to resume those in the second quarter of the school year."
The second quarter of the school year will begin for students on Wednesday, Nov. 3.
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