Self-care days offered across STL school districts

School districts in Illinois and the surrounding St. Louis area have begun to offer self-care days. Christy Johnson, junior, has been advocating for similar change in RSD. Everyones trying to do everything all the time which can get pretty stressful, Johnson said.

Media by Marin Ellington (she/her)

School districts in Illinois and the surrounding St. Louis area have begun to offer self-care days. Christy Johnson, junior, has been advocating for similar change in RSD. “Everyone’s trying to do everything all the time which can get pretty stressful,” Johnson said.

The Hazelwood School District, along with more than a dozen other districts in the St. Louis area and across the state, extended their Thanksgiving breaks to the entire week off for self-care. 

“Our Board of Education and Administration care deeply about the mental wellbeing of our learning community,” Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, superintendent of Hazelwood School District, said in a statement to the district. “Our students, faculty, staff and parents/guardians have worked tirelessly to persevere in the face of unthinkable challenges.” 

Aashish Allu, junior at Lafayette High School, advocated for the importance of mental health last year after posting a video to Instagram. Since then, Allu said he has been working with administrators, counselors and schools in other districts. In addition, Allu conducts weekly meetings with other students, discussing next steps to make a quantifiable change in the district. 

“I would say I’m passionate about mental health because I feel like it’s something that affects everyone that I interact with on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s parents, teachers, students,” Allu said. 

If self-care days were offered in RSD, Allu said students would benefit from having the choice of a day off from the academic rigor and after school activities. 

What we try to do is make sure that schools are the oasis for students and that we have resources that students need.”

— Todd Minichiello

“It obviously gets stressful, and it gets overwhelming at times, so having just a day that they can take after a long week or two weeks, where they can just reset and then come back even more prepared to learn – that’s going to be a benefit to them,” Allu said.

Mary Lapak, executive director of communications for RSD, said the district has a record of providing staff with the “gift of time” around the holiday season. 

“We recognize and appreciate that the last two years have been hard on all of our staff for a variety of reasons, which has resulted in increased stress levels for many of our staff members, and that weighs on us as well,” Lapak said.

For students, however, Lapak said the situation is a little more complicated.

The district is required to take into account the requirement of instructional hours provided by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), which makes calendar adjustments and accommodations challenging. 

“Changing the calendar is not something that is easily done, and we also, again, we value those instructional days for our students,” Lapak said.

Lapak said RSD is having an ongoing conversation about how to best support staff and students with handling mental health related issues, and nothing is off the table.

Todd Minichiello, coordinator of K-12 school counseling, said because most students’ families work, RSD needs to be considerate about unplanned days off. 

“What we try to do is make sure that schools are the oasis for students and that we have resources that students need so that when they’re at school, they have everything that they could need,” Minichiello said. 

Starting in January, students across Illinois will be allowed to individually take up to five excused mental health days without needing a doctor’s note. 

According to Bill SB1577, students will have the opportunity to make up missed school work during their absent period. Other states such as Arizona and Colorado have created similar measures.

Laura Cook, therapist, said many students feel lonely or isolated, and these feelings have been exacerbated by the pandemic. This isolation and loneliness can lead to depression and lack of motivation and therefore a need for mental health days.  

“I like the idea of having excused self-care days as they are doing in Illinois,” Cook said. “It allows students to have agency in their own mental health care as well as giving the schools knowledge of what students might be struggling with at that time.”