New Jersey School Is Giving Kids An Extra Day Off To "Take A Breath" Before The Holidays
With children’s mental health emergencies on the rise, one school system is attempting to address the issue with a district-wide mental health day.
On Dec. 10, K-12 students at Roxbury Public Schools in New Jersey will have a day off. It’s not related to a holiday or teacher training day or even impending weather, but rather so students and staff can de-stress and “take a breath” ahead of the holidays.
Jessie Gomez from the Morristown Daily Record reports that the decision was announced three days before Thanksgiving break in a letter from Superintendent Loretta Radulic. “We have been very fortunate to be able to attend school in-person this year, and we can’t forget that we were among the first school districts to provide this opportunity for our community last year,” Radulic wrote in a Nov. 22 letter. “While this school year has brought us closer to a more typical experience, we still have a way to go before we truly feel back to normal.”
“With all of the stresses of this year and the upcoming wonderful, yet exhausting, holiday season, we have decided to use one of our emergency days to close the district on Friday, December 10th,” she continued. “It is our sincere hope that our families will be able to use this gift of time to take a moment to enjoy the season, take a breath, and enjoy a long weekend amidst the bustle.”
Staff and teachers will also have the day off. The district hoped that announcing several weeks in advance would give families time to arrange childcare if necessary.
While the use of an “emergency day” for this purpose may seem frivolous to some, the move came just weeks after Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer of the state’s Department for Children and Families (DCF) announced in a press conference that calls to New Jersey children's mental health hotline have increased compared to the same time last year. “Getting adjusted to something as simple as taking the bus can be stressful,” she explained, North Jersey.com reports, adding that this year September saw more than 10,000 calls, usually in the morning and especially on Monday mornings.
The stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic — from disruption of routine to economic insecurity to close quarters often necessitated by various lockdowns and quarantines — has been far-reaching, and children have not been spared. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 140,000 children have lost a primary or secondary caregiver to Covid. Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that between March and October 2020, the percentage of pediatric mental health emergencies that resulted in emergency department visits by 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for children ages 12 to 17.
In short: what Roxbury schools are responding to in New Jersey is pervasive. And while a relatively unexpected day off can, perhaps, add to the stress of working families who must now arrange (and likely pay for) childcare, there can be no doubt that setting aside time intended to ameliorate mental health is necessary, now more than ever.