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New Hanover County School Board establishes "Wellness Day" for teachers and staff

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Screenshot from the special remote meeting on Thursday, October 28th

On Thursday the New Hanover County School Board called a special meeting to discuss giving district staff a “Wellness Day.” And in that spirit, the board voted to make Friday, November 12th an ‘undesignated teacher work day.'

Board Chair Stefanie Adams gave the reason for calling the meeting: “We know that our families are burned out. Our staff and teachers are burned out.”

During the meeting, all board members were agreement — district staff and teachers needed time off for a mental health day.

Board Member Pete Wildeboer said he spent the day calling principals and assistant principals asking what they needed at their schools and that some staff reported being 'tired, tired, tired.'

The board ultimately decided that those with ‘personal leave’ should take it on this undesignated day; those that don’t have this leave will have to attend the workday, although administrators could designate the day as ‘remote.’

Since students and staff already have off for Veteran’s Day on Thursday, November 11th — this could give many a four-day weekend.

But the nearly hour-long meeting hit some road bumps when the board was trying to decide how to provide the “Wellness Day.”

Board Member Judy Justice wasn’t in favor of having teachers and staff using up a ‘personal day’ so she tried to find workarounds, likening the emerging mental health crisis to an ‘emergency’ weather event.

Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust said they couldn’t do that because the district had to figure out how to pay people and he said he wasn’t in favor of using local money to fund the day off.

"To actually say we can pay it from local, we're talking about 4,200 employees and taking that from — we have an already encumbered budget — you're talking about new money, you're creating another expense. [...] You can't call it a sick day or a snow day. [...] I just want to make sure we're clean with it," said Foust.

He added in arguing with Justice over the 'emergency event' designation, "this is not what’s considered an emergency -- we have to call it what it is."

Board Member Hugh McManus also voiced dissent surrounding teachers using personal time off because "he hated that some teachers don't have that accrued workday yet."

When asked by McManus, Christopher Barnes, the new assistant superintendent of human resources, said that beginning teachers might not have access to those days off, as staff earn about 2 personal days a year — and veteran teachers cannot donate personal days like they can sick leave.

Board members Stefanie Adams and Stephanie Kraybill said they hoped parents could find childcare for this 'student day off.' Kraybill even suggested that some local daycares and organizations could consider doing a 'day camp.'

Ultimately, the board voted 6 to 1 to have Friday, November 12th be an 'undesignated' workday, with Justice dissenting.

The district is following in the footsteps of other school systems in the state like Johnston County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in giving teachers and staff time off for mental health.