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House Education Committee advances mental health day bill

Tanisha Agrawal / The SPOKE

By Alexa Willrich, Staff Reporter

On Feb. 6, the state House Education Committee cleared House Bill 1519. If passed, it would allow students at public schools to designate three mental health days a year as excused absences.

Montgomery County Rep. Napoleon Nelson presented the bill on June 26, 2023 with the help of Sens. John Kane and Judy Schwank. While on a call with Nelson, a Pennsylvania student originally suggested to the representative the idea of excusing absences for mental health. Children First, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and the Pennsylvania Youth Advocacy Network supported the bill.

“The thing that I always want to highlight is just talking about passing this legislation and making sure that we’re codifying students’ mental health helps to elevate (mental health) to the forefront of conversation,” Napoleon said. “It’s just another reason to talk to our students and to talk to your classmates about taking care of yourselves and prioritizing your mental well-being.”

Conestoga allows for excused absences for reasons that can include mental health. Tredyffrin/Easttown School District Administrative Regulation 5113 states that absences are excused “when the student is prevented from attendance for mental, physical, or other urgent reasons,” such as illnesses, in accordance with the Pennsylvania Public School Code.

Mental health specialist Jenna Grabiak said that Conestoga administration works with students and families to allow excused absences for mental health as needed. She believes that formalizing the process could aid students in other schools who do not have similar systems in place.

“I think that Conestoga does a great job with allowing for mental health days already, but this could really help to standardize that process and also bring more awareness to mental health,” Grabiak said.

House Education Committee members raised some concerns while voting on the bill, including that it could enable chronic absenteeism and that it is unnecessary as schools are already required to allow excused absences for health related reasons.

Senior Kat Nguyen, a member of Conestoga’s Mental Health Club, believes that the bill is important to bringing more awareness toward mental health as an option for excused absences.

“It is necessary because when a lot of people say they want to take a mental health day, (they) can just call out sick,” Nguyen said. “But it’s important to have the mental health days installed to reduce the stigma surrounding (mental health) and normalize that it’s okay to take a couple days off.”

Alexa Willrich can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Alexa Willrich
Alexa Willrich, Staff Reporter
Alexa Willrich is a sophomore and Staff Reporter for The Spoke. She enjoys covering sports and events occurring in the T/E community. Outside of The Spoke, Alexa is on the girls’ track and field team. She also devotes her time to volunteering at the local SPCA and is an avid baker and reader.