Illinois lawmakers are considering a proposal to give students mental health days away from school.
The legislation would allow children in kindergarten through twelfth grade who have mental health issues the opportunity to take up to five days off during the school year.
Those days off would be in addition to other absences already allowed for sick days or religious observances, and students who take a mental health day would be given the chance to make up any school work they missed.
Kisha Johnson was summoned to court by the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office because her 6-year-old son missed too many days of school due to problems with ADHD. She says the situation could have been avoided if he had been given a few extra days off.
“Some days he might get up and want to throw things [or] hit things, so I feel like he’s more safe at home than going to school,” Johnson said. “I just feel more comfortable with him being at home, with me knowing how to control the situation.”
Johnson says five days isn’t enough because her son’s medicine dosage doesn’t allow him to consume it everyday.
“On days when he doesn’t have the medication, he is a different child to the point where I could barely handle him,” she said.
Opponents say sending kids home — especially if they’d be home alone — does not address underlying mental health problems. They say more in-school resources are needed, and that safeguards should be put in place to make sure students and parents are not taking advantage of the days off.
Kevin Rubenstein is president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education. He supports the idea, but says the state legislature should also provide more money to help kids while they’re at school.
“We need more resources in terms of social workers, school counselors, school psychologists and other mental health providers to support students so that they’re able to come to school on a regular basis.”
Kisha Johnson agrees more in-school resources would help her son.
“I think there should be other alternative resources besides [his] medication. The medication is needed, but I don’t want him to become dependent on it,” she said.
Rubenstein said any state proposal concerning mental health in schools needs to be supportive and appropriate for all students across the state, especially those in marginalized communities.
"Mental health rates are higher for those who live in communities with high poverty rates, because we know that when you live in poverty, mental health challenges are likely to be greater,” he said. “Students who are identifying as LGBTQ, we need to have those additional helpful resources for them as well.”