School Board opposes wellness day in spite of widespread community support

Story by Eddie Zhou
Staff Writer

Photo by SPUSD

The South Pasadena School Board declined to implement a wellness day despite strong support from teachers, parents, and students at a special Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Board members voted to submit the current Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan (LCAP) to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, postponing the discussion on the creation of a wellness day.

A public hearing was held on Wednesday, Sept. 23 to discuss the LCAP, with the vast majority of the meeting’s public comments urging for a wellness day to be added to the LCAP. However, in the week leading up to Tuesday’s vote, the district did not amend the LCAP to include a wellness day, and submitted the current model prior to its Wednesday, Sept. 30 deadline.

While the Board members noted that the LCAP can be amended in the future, they all emphasized their commitment to the current instructional model with five days of synchronous learning. The Board claimed that because teachers are only required to conduct at least 50 percent of their class time synchronously, there is flexibility to add more asynchronous work in lieu of implementing a wellness day. However, a Tiger survey found that out of 34 SPHS teachers, 84 percent said they spent at least one hour of their given 80 minute periods on Zoom, giving students little to no time to complete independent work during school hours.

The School Board did commit to continue discussions about a wellness day with various stakeholders, including neighboring districts who have already adopted the asynchronous day. Plans for a survey were announced — although it is unclear what it will entail and who it will be sent to. Board members also plan to meet with select students to discuss the implementation of a wellness day, but remain against it in spite of widespread community support. 

Several SPHS students created a petition advocating for a wellness day that garnered over 700 signatures from students, teachers, and parents. However, Board member Dr. Ruby Kalra questioned the validity of the petition, as a portion of the signatures were from outside of California: 83 of the total 744. Public comments also revealed student support for a wellness day, which has been expressed at multiple board meetings within the past few weeks.

“I often find myself unmotivated to do my homework or study for tests due to the fact that I am staring at a screen for seven hours with only a 30 minute break,” junior Jade Harris said. “I believe a wellness day would be beneficial because it would give students a free day to catch up on work, prioritize mental health, and maintain a healthy social life while staying safe in quarantine.”

Currently, ASB, school counselors, and the shared SPHS-SPMS social worker Natasha Prime are the primary promoters of mental health at the secondary level, and there is no school time allocated for wellness activities like there is in the elementary schools. SPUSD recently announced a yearlong partnership with Care Solace, an online platform dedicated to connecting all district families with appropriate mental health resources.

Still, parents have raised numerous concerns over their children’s mental health and wellbeing. Many have seen their kids struggle with Zoom fatigue and other physical and psychological problems stemming from extended time spent in front of a screen.

“I am extremely grateful for the time, creativity, and efforts our incredible teachers are making in their lessons, but the screen time, pressure, and expectations on our children come with a very stressful and unhealthy cost,” SPUSD parent Michele Masjedi said. “We need to address social, emotional, and mental health… and I know that everyone would benefit from a [wellness day].”

Supporters of the wellness day stressed that more Zoom time does not equate to more learning, and believe that an asynchronous day would provide students with an opportunity to participate in enrichment activities such as clubs, ASB events, and student-led panels or discussions. Students would also be able to use the time to meet individually with teachers and counselors, and teachers can use the time to plan engaging and meaningful lessons — a task made much more difficult and time-consuming by distance learning.

Teachers have been at the forefront of the effort to create a wellness day, with many relaying their experiences of the district excluding them and their ideas during the implementation of the distance learning plan. The Teacher’s Association of South Pasadena’s original model — which was proposed in July — included an asynchronous day, but the School Board refused to accommodate it and other teacher requests, instead opting to proceed with the district’s own model. 

“It is demoralizing to have to explain to fellow educators that you cannot teach children when they themselves are too tired to learn,” SPMS teacher Ashley Clark said in a public comment. “Perhaps [the school board] will listen to teachers’ professional opinions instead of tossing decades of experience and advanced degrees aside.” 

No Board member expressed support for the creation of a wellness day, believing that a wellness day would disengage students and that student mental health is already being directly addressed by school resources. 

“I am still very strongly committed to five days of engagement and interaction for all of our students,” Board member Jon Primuth said. “A wellness day that doesn’t require attendance will see a number of students become disengaged. I’m really happy to see that the administration is working on creative approaches to maximize asynchronous learning.”

Such comments have made supporters of a wellness day increasingly frustrated. Many of them have grown impatient with the School Board’s lack of action despite its constant affirmation that it is listening to the community. 

“Actions show the respect and value the district has for its teachers and students. Words without actions are empty and insulting,” SPHS teacher Jennifer Cutler said. “To say that the school goal is to promote mental wellness while simultaneously sticking with the same fatiguing schedule is hypocritical and insulting to teachers and students.” 

The School Board meets next on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.