Since March 2019, the Board of Education has implemented new rules and protocols including allowing students to take a “mental health day” as an excused absence from now on.
Returning to school for the first time in 14 months is hard, especially after the inordinate toll of the pandemic. During the time online, students could remain home and use Wednesdays as a day to do work and talk with teachers. Back in person, students can no longer zoom in from home and have full five-day weeks of school. MCPS has been “warned for months of a simmering mental health crisis as students across the nation have struggled with depression, anxiety, isolation, family hardships, sick relatives and plunging grades since schools closed in March 2020,” the Washington Post said.
The Board acknowledged the crisis and created a solution. Student Member of the Board Nick Asante was a significant advocate for students and pushed this policy to success. Students are now allowed unlimited mental health days, but they may need a doctor’s note if the absence is prolonged. “I know mental health is an issue a lot of students care about, and it’s always been at the forefront, but I think now more than ever it’s a big concern for a lot of students,” Asante said.
Students report being happy with mental health days. “I am happy students have representation with Nick Asante voting in favor of mental health as an excused absence. I think it is important for students to have mental health days here and there, especially with the stress of my junior year; I know I will be using one,” junior Ryan Kunst said.
In other counties, mental health is taken into account too. Prince George’s County is allowed one excused absence per semester for mental health reasons. Also, Fairfax County recently passed a state law that added mental health-related excused absences.
It is essential that students do not abuse this new rule. If students start to abuse it consistently, there is speculation that it can get taken away, an issue for the students who need it. “I’m happy MCPS implemented mental health days as excused absences because it will let students breathe when they need it,” sophomore Lily King said.
Teachers and administrators are allowed to apply for a personal illness and receive a sub. It is much harder for teachers to find a substitute the day of, but MCPS is also trying to support staff.
Montgomery County has provided a 24-hour mental health crisis hotline for students. (610-279-6100) There are many ways students can get help, whether calling the hotline or talking to teachers, counselors and administrators. “It is important for students to be given time to work on becoming the best version of themselves. Having mental health days allows students just that,” senior and SGA president Nick Jones said.
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