Students in Illinois schools will be able to take up to five excused mental or behavioral health days beginning in January.
State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, D- Aurora, co-sponsored the bill, which Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law earlier this month. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022.
Students who take mental health days will not be required to provide schools with a doctor’s note and will be able to make up any work they missed.
“Having this now for all students across the state will be really beneficial, especially with what’s going on with COVID,” Hernandez said. “Many students feel stressed, and have developed anxiety and depression because they’re not able to see teachers and friends, and may have lower grades due to remote learning. This will allow them to get the help they need.”
After a student requests a second mental health day, a school counselor will reach out to the family to come up with a plan to get the student professional help. Students should understand that they’ll have to have a conversation with an adult about whatever it is they’re going through, Hernandez said.
“I am really excited for this. I think it will help students, parents and teachers, and can help them understand what’s going on in their students’ lives. Many students are going through a lot mentally and emotionally and they need support,” Hernandez said. “Another important thing is that they don’t need to provide a doctor’s note, so parents don’t have to take their child into a medical provider. Parents can just call the school and let them know their student is taking a mental health day.”
Administrators of northern Illinois school systems said they are preparing to comply with the new law. Conversations about policies to achieve compliance have started and will continue through the rest of the year in McHenry County school districts.
McHenry High School District 156 already has a committee of administrative officials and staff members working on a proposal for compliance to put into effect at the start of 2022, Superintendent Ryan McTague said through a district spokeswoman.
“McHenry High School District 156 is always committed to supporting our students’ overall wellness, so we are glad to see student mental health needs prioritized in Illinois,” McTague said in a statement provided by spokeswoman Amy Maciaszek. “In addition to focusing on social emotional learning in our curriculum, we’ve implemented many programs aimed at fostering a healthy atmosphere at school. This support will continue with the passage of this new law.”
Maciaszek did not respond to an email Friday asking for more details on the District 156 proposal so far, such as whether students may be prohibited from using mental health days when there are examinations or other academic activities on the schedule in certain classes.
Johnsburg School District 12 Superintendent Dan Johnson said officials in his system are doing more work this fall on the topic as it prepares for the law to kick into gear, but also offered no details about how compliance might be achieved.
School districts have the rest of this year to come up with a plan on how to implement the new law, Hernandez said.
“Schools will have time to update their attendance policy, and which steps to take. The districts, by law, have to make sure a student seeks help after the second mental health day, but this time will allow schools to determine their plans,” she said. “Schools were supportive [of the bill], and this was something people saw as a priority and we wanted to make sure it passed.”