New bill pushing for mental health days for students

Local News

New legislation would give all New York students the ability to take a mental health day as an excused absence from school.

According to mental health experts, over 60% of children report experiencing high levels of stress. The growing numbers are part of the push for the legislation.

Experts say a mental health day could help students to stay sharp.

“This is an amazing time because it acknowledges that our young people need to have the agency to be able to take care of themselves, just like they could take care of themselves if they had any other chronic condition,” said Melanie Funchess, Director of Community Engagement at the Mental Health Association.

Under current Rochester city school attendance policy, students can take an excused absence for things like appointments, illness, and religions reasons.

Senator Holyman introduced the new legislation on September 5, 2019. The bill amends Section 3210 of the Education Law. The new addition states; “absence due to the mental or behavioral health of the minor shall be permitted under rules that the commissioner shall establish.”

Similar bills have been passed in states like Oregon and Minnesota.

Opponents say the definitions of a mental health day is too vague and be overused. Some retired New York teachers agree.

“You have a responsibility to be there and you need to go to work and you need to practice that while you’re in high school,” said Judy Butler, a retired teacher.

“It’s about being responsible to yourselves, I think that students their responsibility and their job is school, that’s their job,” said Linda Ricci, a guidance counselor.

Statistics show one in five children experience mental health issues. The top 5 things causing students stress include; getting good grades, juggling priorities and body appearance.

Experts at the mental health association in Rochester believe the bill is essential.

“We have gotten to a place where our kids are not allowed to be, our young people are not allowed to be kids. There’s not a lot of free time anymore, and these things are causing stress. All these in my mind show the reason why our young people need to be able to have this agency granted where they can say I need a mental health day and have it seen as legitimate,” said Funchess.

If passed, Senator Holyman is hoping for the bill to take effect for the 2020-21 school year.

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