Scrapped SDUSD mental health day proposal draws scrutiny
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Tomorrow San Diego unified school students have the day off for the veterans day holiday. There was never any controversy about that, but a proposal last week to have students take this Friday off as a mental health day for kids and families ran into a lot of pushback. The mental health day idea has been scrapped. School is open on Friday, but the fallout has strained. Some parents trust in whether they're being told the truth about school staffing issues. Joining me is KPBS education reporter M G Perez M G. Welcome. Hi
Speaker 2: (00:36)
Speaker 1: (00:37)
So how was this idea of a mental health day originally proposed by San Diego unified?
Speaker 2: (00:44)
I want to start by saying that what I'm about to share with you comes directly from the interim superintendent, Dr. Lamont Jackson. It was his idea. I actually spoke to him last Friday and he came up with the idea and went to his staff and said, let's see what this might look like. And then there was an email that was sent out to principals, uh, that happened last week. And that's kind of where the message initially got put out. It was incomplete and then came the disconnect and the miscommunication. So
Speaker 1: (01:17)
Why did Lamont Jackson think that a mental health day was needed
Speaker 2: (01:22)
As you mentioned, school is out for veteran's day and it could conceivably be a four day weekend for many families. And so the thinking was, Hey, we traditionally have low attendance on a day that we might be included in a four day weekend. Why don't we take this opportunity? Not only for mental health, but to allow parents to get their kids vaccinated. Remember the mandate that is in place for 16 and up that first deadline is coming up just before Thanksgiving requiring vaccination. So that's really what the plan behind it was and why they decided to call it up mental health day.
Speaker 1: (02:03)
So as you say, a four day weekend is usually a pretty good thing, but some parents objected to the last minute timing. Why is that
Speaker 2: (02:11)
Parents like to be prepared? These are their children that we're talking about. And many of them felt that this was kind of sprung on them with about a week to plan or not plan or whatever it was going to be. And that's what upset a lot of parents. I will tell you this, however, also this week, the Mexican border opened and many families were actually happy about it because it would allow them to travel across the border and visit relatives. So it was a mixed bag, but the ones who were most vocal of course, were those who said, Hey, you know, you're just springing this on us. Why didn't we have more proper warnings so that we could prepare for the,
Speaker 1: (02:51)
And then, uh, social media posts suggested there was an ulterior motive for the mental health day. Tell us about that. It is
Speaker 2: (02:59)
No secret that, uh, San Diego unified, like most other districts around the country are short-staffed in just about every job, uh, that they, the district has. So the claim then became, oh, they're short on substitute teachers. They can't provide coverage for children. And therefore that's really what is behind that. And that's what started to explode on, uh, many, uh, social media messages.
Speaker 1: (03:27)
How did the district respond to that? I guess we can call it rumor.
Speaker 2: (03:31)
And I talked directly to Dr. Jackson and he flat out denied it. He said, that is not the case.
Speaker 1: (03:37)
You've reported on the shortage of qualified substitute teachers. How might that factor into the staffing situation at San Diego unified?
Speaker 2: (03:45)
Many of the contracted teachers had asked for the day off. And so when a teacher is out, there needs to be a substitute. And the truth is the substitute pool is not, there is not what the district needs it to be. So the truth is that, um, had they gone forward with this, there definitely would have been a shortage of substitute teachers to fill in those positions. And so that was definitely a factor in deciding to scrub the whole idea.
Speaker 1: (04:15)
There is the shortage of substitute teachers coming from why is there a shortage?
Speaker 2: (04:21)
Cool are realizing that they are worth more than they're being then they were being paid. And I can tell you that San Diego unified has upped the daily rate that they pay substitutes. In fact, they doubled, it used to be about $125. That is not the case. It's over $200 now. And so the shortage is really people were saying this isn't worth it to me to put my health in danger, to go in and put all this work in and not be compensated. And so the district has had to respond to that as had districts all over the country.
Speaker 1: (04:58)
Ultimately the district decided to scrap the idea of letting kids take Friday off. How was that decision made public
Speaker 2: (05:05)
Again, through email, after I interviewed the superintendent on Friday, he told me that by the end of day, Friday, they would let parents know what they had decided. So another email went out and this one was very clear that school is open and students are welcome. And they also have the option to not come to school and they will not be counted absent. Uh, it will be an excused absence and this day will not have to be made up. That was another concern that parents had, that if the day is canceled, it would have to be made up sometime later in the school year. That is not the case. Now
Speaker 1: (05:44)
This whole incident apparently is not sitting well with some parents. Is it
Speaker 2: (05:48)
It's all about trust and things have been so chaotic. And there has been so much miss information throughout the schools as COVID has gone through and hurt so many people in so many different ways. So it really is about building trust. And there are a lot of parents who say, wait a minute, how were we not consulted about this decision before you decided to go forward with it? What it looks like ultimately is the idea maybe was a good one, but the execution just failed dramatically. And that's why the superintendent decided we're not even going to take this to the school board. And we'll just go ahead. As it was planned,
Speaker 1: (06:31)
I've been speaking with KPBS education, reporter mg Perez, M J. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (06:37)
Speaker 3: (06:38)
San Diego Unified schools will indeed be open this Friday, despite an earlier plan to make it a mental health holiday.
KPBS education reporter MG Perez joined Midday Edition on Wednesday to talk about the controversy the decision spurred.
Dr. Lamont Jackson, interim superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, originally proposed the idea for the day off on Friday, Nov. 12. But many parents pushed back on the proposed day off, citing a lack of advance notice to accommodate the added day off.
"So it really is about building trust and there are a lot of parents who say, 'Wait a minute, how were we not consulted about this decision before you decided to go forward,'" Perez said.
Perez said Jackson denied a connection between the proposed mental health holiday and staffing shortages. Still, staffing remains an issue for the district and Perez said how the district has significantly raised substitute teacher pay as an incentive.
While San Diego schools will be open Friday, students have the option to take an excused absence, should families decide to take the extra day following the Veterans Day holiday.
"What it looks like, ultimately is the idea maybe was a good one, but the execution just failed dramatically," Perez said. "And that's why the superintendent decided we're not even going to take this to the school board and we'll just go ahead as it was planned."