HB 81: Mental Health as an Excused School Absence
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Three years ago, we advocated for a change to the law that would allow parents to excuse their children from government schools for mental illness. Prior to that time, state law referred to “illness,” but did not specify what type—and many school districts interpreted this as referring only to physical health.
Over the years, we have met with many families where students experiencing mental health crises were also subjected to punitive truancy proceedings for failure to attend their classes, adding to their troubles and complicating their recovery. This legal reform was a welcome change.
However, it inadvertently fell short of the goal, for “mental illness” is still understood by some to mean a diagnosed, protracted condition. It, therefore, does not include a mental health crisis or episode that is short-lived or acute in nature.
This bill expands on parental rights—as schools should be subordinate to and supportive of the parents as they help educate and care for their children. Allowing children to deal with their overall health without facing added pressure and punishment from the school system is proper policy.
Should the bill pass, parents whose children have a bad day due to anxiety, depression, temptations of suicide, or other mental health challenges will have the legal right to excuse them from compulsory education for that day. And that’s as it should be.