BOSTON (State House News Service) – The COVID-19 pandemic, marked by disrupted routines and social isolation, has drawn new attention to issues related to the mental health of young people. Now lawmakers are proposing ways to give Massachusetts students additional flexibility to deal with mental health issues as they arise.
The Joint Education Committee heard testimony on a pair of bills dealing with mental illness days for students on Tuesday.
Representative Tami Gouveia’s bill (H 3782), which was introduced at the request of a voter, would amend the section of state law on excused absences from school to specify “that cases of ‘necessary absences should include absences for the mental or behavioral health of the student. “
A bill introduced by Representative Carol Doherty (H 572) would provide that “a school will excuse two absences for mental or behavioral reasons over a period of six months”, without requiring a note from a health professional or an explanation from the student or his parents. .
Doherty said the idea behind his bill was proposed, before the pandemic, by seniors at Oliver Ames High School in Easton as a class project. Gouveia, Acton Democrat and candidate for lieutenant governor, said students have contacted her throughout the pandemic, advocating for days of mental health.
Gouveia said she heard “on several occasions, everywhere I go in the Commonwealth” of the concerns of parents, teachers and clergy about the mental health of young people.
“Allowing schools to grant excused absences for mental health days is just another way of recognizing that mental health is health care, it is a form of health,” she said. declared. “And if we don’t recognize that people need a day off to take care of their mental health – maybe they need to go to a therapist, maybe they need to. seek longer term treatment – we continue the stigma against mental health by not equating it with a cold or the flu or a stomachache or broken leg that a young child might experience during their daytime.
She said Utah and Oregon have redefined their excused absence laws to include mental health issues.
Doherty, a Democrat from Taunton, said that when similar policies were adopted in other states, the measures “have helped improve the mental health of students, boost their academic performance and reduce chronic absences.”
A former teacher and guidance counselor who sits on the Taunton school committee, Doherty said she hoped her bill could be a “catalyst through which a more honest conversation about mental health in our youth occurs.”
One student, Aidan Scully, spoke out in favor of Doherty’s bill, saying it “encourages students to keep an eye on themselves” and “tells them that their success runs much deeper than a perfect attendance â.
âIt does more than just provide students with a legitimate way to call in sick if they’re not feeling mentally well,â Scully said. âIt creates a culture where it’s okay to disagree. “
Another bill before committee (H 636), introduced by House Minority Leader Brad Jones, would create a commission of lawmakers, state officials and mental health practitioners to make recommendations on mental health curricula in schools.
Lynnfield High School junior Evyenia Georges said she supports the bill, but also believes youth voices should be represented on the panel.
Georges said the students at his school take a semester of health education in grade nine.
âThere isn’t a single element of mental health, but there has to be,â she said. âIt is no coincidence that currently there are three active civic education projects that focus on the need for mental health education and training for teachers to adequately meet the needs of students. After the last years of the ongoing pandemic, many students have been sent into states of sadness and distress. “