CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district will stay home the entire week of Thanksgiving as part of what the district is calling “wellness days” aimed at alleviating mental health concerns.
The district announced Friday that, on top of the planned Thanksgiving holiday break, students and teachers will be off Tuesday, Nov. 23, and Wednesday, Nov. 24. Additionally, Monday, Nov. 22 will be an optional teacher workday.
The district will also take a mental health day on Monday, Feb. 14, with a teacher workday moved to Tuesday, Feb. 15 to give students a long weekend.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Superintendent Nyah Hamlett said the driving force behind these changes to the district calendar are mental health concerns she’s hearing from both staff and students.
“I had been hearing that it was only a few weeks into the school year but employees, as well as some of our students and families, were feeling like it was already March,” Hamlett told CBS 17’s Sean Cudahy Monday.
Hamlett pointed to continued COVID-19 protocols as a factor, particularly at the middle and high school levels.
The decision by school leaders follows similar steps taken in recent weeks in Wake and Cumberland county districts, as well as at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The move does mean additional time away from the classroom, though, at a time when districts are simultaneously working to close learning gaps created during the pandemic. For example, a September report released by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction detailed “formidable challenges” faced by teachers and students, with significant drops in testing during the pandemic, in some cases.
Hamlett told CBS 17 she does not believe the additional days off to focus on mental health will exacerbate learning gaps.
“Adding a couple days into the calendar, I don’t think is going to put us further behind…than we already are,” she said. “It’s not just about playing catch-up. It’s about supporting our students and our parents and our employees.”
As part of its focus on mental health, the district is also adding incentive-based bonus pay for teachers who remain employed with the district, remote work options for certain staff, and wellness-based activities for students after they return from winter break in January.