New Law Benefits Students


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Julia Gerard, News Editor


Illinois students can take mental health days beginning Jan. 1 according to a new state law.


The new mental health bill co-sponsored by Senators Robert Martwick, Mike Hastings, Christopher Belt and Jacqueline Collins passed with a bi-partison unanimous vote in April 2021. SB 01577 states public school students shall be granted up to five days of excused absences for mental or behavioral health, with no medical note required.


“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,” representative Barbra Hernandez told the Daily Herald Sep. 3, 2021. “This will allow them to get the help they need.”

The bill was sent to Governor J.B. Pritzker June 29, 2021, he signed on Aug. 25 and it went into effect the first of the year.  


“Those with mental health challenges should not be relegated to living in the shadows,” Pritzker said during a press conference on Aug. 26, 2021. “And, that’s why as governor, I’ve sought to reshape a state where policies match those values.”


Mental health absences have their own category in North’s attendance system. 


“Mental health absences are coded as MH,” Assistant  Principal Darnell Weathersby said. “A student’s parent should call in and notify the school that the student will be absent due to mental health, and North codes the absence accordingly.” 


Excused mental health absences are handled a little differently than a normal excused absence, though.

“If there are two consecutive days or two days a student is absent due to mental health, a social worker is notified to check in with the student as an additional layer of support,” Weathersby said. 


Illinois becomes the seventh date to pass mental health days legislation.  Arizona, Connecticut, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia and Maine previously have similar laws  set in place.


“Illinois is at a critical juncture,” Senator Laura Fine told the press during the Mental Health Legislation press conference on Aug. 26, 2021. “We are facing two public health crises right now, COVID-19 and an ongoing mental health and addiction crisis that has made worse this pandemic. I’ve seen and heard firsthand from so many of my constituents about the challenges that they are facing and that they have an increased need for care.” 


Mental health issues have been rising, especially with the pandemic. The Center For Disease and Control Prevention says that mental health related emergencies have gone up 31% for children ages 12 to 17 since March 2020.


“Mental health is an important aspect of a person’s overall health,” health teacher Kristin Drake said. “It includes emotional, social, and psychological well being.”


With the new Illinois mandate allowing for mental health days, students are able to take care of their mental needs without the stress of having to do school work until they are back at school.


“When a brain is in ‘stress’ mode it is difficult to focus on anything else including academics,” social worker Kassandra Foleno said. “The benefit of the new mental health days is it allows students time to de-stress and allows them to take ownership over their mental health.” 


North students feel the new state mental health days are necessary in order to be excused when they feel the need.

“I think that mental health days are really important especially for students,” senior Lindsey McDonald said. “These will benefit us and allow us to have a day off and relax.”


Senior Angelina Pardo concurs.“It is a really big step in the right direction when it comes to the topic of mental health,” Pardo said. “As students there are days where we are not feeling the greatest, and just having the opportunity to check in with ourselves again is crucial.” 


Teachers and staff also recognize the importance of asking for help.


I think that it is healthy to talk about mental health issues,” Principal Ross Draper said. “The most important thing a student can do is to find someone they can talk to in the building and outside the building.”


Daily functioning can suffer  when someone’s mental or physical health is unbalanced. 


Healthy mind and body are essential for a fulfilling and productive life,” school psychologist Diana Klemetson said. “If either one is negatively impacted, the likelihood of the other following on the same path is great. “


With the new mental health days set in place, negative stigma surrounding mental health is slowly being broken.


Mental health is extremely important,” Drake said.  “I would go as far as saying your mental health controls your life which is why it is imperative everyone learns how to cope in a healthy way and ask for help when they need it. No one should ever feel ashamed for needing help.”