Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools to give students Thanksgiving week off for mental health

·4 min read

This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. Oct. 25 to correct a misattributed quote in the district news release.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will give students the entire week of Thanksgiving off to support students and staff members’ mental health and wellness, the district announced.

The new days off — a combination of an optional teacher work day and two new “wellness” days — are just some of the new initiatives the school board approved last week.

In a presentation Thursday night and a news release, Superintendent Nyah Hamlett cited feedback from employees, students and families as reasons for the new initiatives, which also include two years of retention bonuses for most district staff members.

“Our mental health is declining at an unsustainable rate,” Madison “Madi” Lin, a Chapel Hill High School senior and study body president told the school board. “We need actions that give our students hope.”

Retention bonuses

Following similar action in other districts, the school board unanimously supported retention bonuses to be paid with federal COVID-19 relief and local funding.

● Every current worker employed as of Oct. 31, 2021, who has not already received a recruitment bonus on or after July 1, 2021, will receive a $1,000 retention bonus (to be paid in the Nov. 30 paycheck).

● Every current worker who continues their employment through Oct. 31, 2022, will receive a second bonus of at least $500.

Chief financial officer Jonathan Scott said the administration looked at how much nearby districts were paying in bonuses this year, including Orange County Schools ($1,200), Chatham County Schools ($1,250) and Durham Public Schools (about $1,000).

Board members briefly considered offering a higher bonus this year but decided to spread bonuses over two years to help retain teachers and staff for even longer. Several board members said they would like to consider a higher bonus next year if possible.

Each $100 of bonus for the district’s roughly 2,000 employees costs $215,000, Scott said.

Board member Rani Dasi said, to her, the bonus is both to retain staff but also thank them for the work they have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

School calendar changes

The board approved the following changes, according to the news release:

● Monday, Nov. 22, is now an optional teacher workday (no students in school.)

● Tuesday, Nov. 23, and Wednesday, Nov. 24, are wellness days leading into Thanksgiving (no students or employees in schools.)

● Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, will be a wellness day, and a required teacher workday will now move to Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro is not the only Triangle school district making calendar changes.

The Wake County school system has canceled classes on Nov. 12, extending the Nov. 11 Veterans Day holiday break by a day, The News & Observer previously reported.

Teleworking, other changes

The CHCCS board also will now let employees work from home or at an alternative work location under certain conditions.

The administration is making these changes that did not need board approval, according to the news release:

For CHCCS employees only:

● Nov. 1, which was already a “teacher workday” will now be a “telework day” for all employees who want to do so.

● Nov. 2 remains an optional teacher workday, which can also be a “telework day” for those who want to do so.

For CHCCS students:

● Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 remain days when there is no school for students.

For CHCCS high school seniors:

● Following Thanksgiving Break (effective Monday, Nov. 29), high school seniors will be allowed to leave campus for lunch. Seniors will be encouraged to continue to adhere to school masking requirements while off campus.

● Schools will also plan to provide additional opportunities to increase socialization and connectivity for all students during their lunch periods.

CHCCS will also:

● Create “Mindful Mondays” and “Wellness Wednesdays” starting in January 2022. Students would still come to school, but would do so in a “relaxed schedule” with planned wellness activities to reduce stress and anxiety.

● Develop a plan that will permit school-sponsored outdoor events that follow all current COVID protocols. School-sponsored indoor events that support the arts and other extracurricular activities will also be reassessed to resume in the second quarter, as well.

● Develop a plan that will permit certain visitors and volunteers back into schools to support school programming and/or learning. Only fully vaccinated visitors and volunteers will be permitted.

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