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NLPS schools to close on Dec. 6 for Mental Health Day

COVID pressures and workloads require special day for division staff, says superintendent

After much debate at their most recent board meeting regarding teacher wellness, Northern Lights Public School (NLPS) trustees have agreed to offer staff  a Mental Health Day away from work on December 6.

After the first semester’s report cards and parent-teacher conferences are over, says NLPS superintendent Rick Cusson, staff will have an opportunity to have an additional day to the long weekend to recuperate.

“The premise can reduce the stress and potentially allow our staff to get closer to their own baselines, they’ll be able to provide that better level of service to our students and more appropriately address their needs,” Cusson said.

The extra day will see all 27 schools across the Lakeland  close — but during discussion on the additional no-school day, school board trustee Debra Lozinski, contemplated on whether the extra day would negatively impact students who need access to school; and parents who will have to plan around their work schedules for the holiday.

“I think in the collective agreement teachers have, there are quite a bit of opportunities for taking time off when they particularly feel stressed,” said Lozinski. “I’m not sure that another day off that puts a burden on parents is appropriate.”

The collective agreement ensures teachers can allot time off for personal reasons, says Cusson, but it can ultimately cause more stress for teachers who have to plan lessons ahead of time for substitutes rather than recognizing one day for everyone in the year geared towards mental wellness.

“The efforts that are required for the creation of sub-plans—and if I can speak freely— in a year like this, that’s assuming subs are available because we are tight on that side of things — It does sometimes cause additional stress to our teaching staff in particular,” he said.

Cusson explained that division officials have concluded that there is space in the yearly calendar to facilitate school staff, and  if the situation ever affects course guidelines or extra time needed in classrooms, there are other options. One of those options would be to extend class-times later on.

“If we got into a place where we saw significant challenges in meeting the required number of hours, we could augment the length of the day in the second semester to increase the number of minutes per day that would hopefully get us closer if not— in excess— of what the minimum requirements would be.”

The additional day, says associate NLPS superintendent Bill Driedger, would include one less instructional day in the first semester —88 days versus 89 days in the second semester.

Overall, the Mental Health Day would recognize the challenges staff have faced during COIVD, and allow them to meet the pressures that result from requesting time off.

Lois Phillips, the new Ward 3 trustee — and a recently retired teacher —  noted that recognizing the challenges teachers and staff face would have been a great opportunity during her time as an educator. However, making that time available right now is beneficial to both students' learning objectives and staffs’ mental well-being.

“School can be a student’s safe place, but they would be coming back to staff members who are refreshed… from a teacher's point of view, that would have been a gift.”