Dist. 86 takes steps to reduce student stress

Hinsdale High School District 86 students got a couple of extra days off after board members expanded the Thanksgiving holiday to a full week to address mental health concerns.

At the Nov. 18 board meeting, board members voted unanimously to make Nov. 22 and 23 nonattendance days. Nov. 24-26 were already scheduled days off. In a report to board members, administrators said the added time was for students and staff “to rest, relax and recharge.”

Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh said the recommendation was made after administrators and instructors heard from students that, even with in-person classes reinstated, the emotional impact of COVID-19 was still being felt.

“The intent is it is a mental health break for students as well as staff,” Walsh said, noting that teachers were instructed to refrain from assigning work during the break.

Board member Debbie Levinthal acknowledged the challenges many are experiencing. But she said sudden schedule change caused some “undue stress” among families based on emails she had received and asked why word of the plan got out before the board’s meeting agenda was posted.

“I recognize the need — the days off are much needed at this point,” she remarked. “Why (was) a communication of it sent during the school day, which could have very well been disruptive, given the timing of it.”

Superintendent Tammy Prentiss said pupils, as the primary advocates for the measure, were entitled to the advance notice.

“This was really coming from the students,” Prentiss said of the weeklong break. “It would feel very disingenuous if they did not know at the same time (as other parties).”

Board member Jeff Waters offered an apology for potentially violating the Open Meetings Act when he respond to a text message on the matter, without elaborating on the content of the message.

“To inform the community, I very well made have made a transgression in terms of Open Meeting violation,” he said. “For that I do apologize.”

Board President Terri Walker informed him that the district’s legal counsel determined there had been no violation.

The change, which is for this school year only, reduced the number of pupil instruction days this school year from 180 to 178. The Illinois School Code requires at least 176 days.

In addition, the administration has decreed that first semester final exams in January will be “no harm,” meaning an exam score cannot lower a student’s grade, only raise it. Final exam attendance therefore will be optional.

“Students may select to take a final if they feel they can improve their grade by taking it, or because they would like to experience/practice taking a final exam in a particular subject area,” administrators stated in it board report. “It enables us to act upon the student/parent/teacher voices we are hearing to ensure that winter break is a true break for students.”

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean