Legislation introduced in the New York state Senate Thursday would grant students mental health days to take during the school year.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D), would “establish mental or behavioral health issues as permitted reasons for a student’s absence from school,” according to a statement from Hoylman.
Hoylman cited a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year, which found that the number of children and teenagers treated in American emergency rooms for suicide attempts nearly doubled between 2007 and 2015.
The state lawmaker also cited data from New York State Health Connector, which found that nearly 4,500 New York minors visited emergency departments for self-harm in 2016.
“We need to recognize suicide and self-harm among young New Yorkers as the major public health crisis that it is, demolish the stigma around mental health care, and do everything within our power to help kids who are struggling seek treatment. An absence from school should never be a barrier to mental health treatment for a child in New York State,” Hoylman said.
The statement did not specify whether there would be a limit on the number of days students would be permitted to use for reasons related to mental health. The bill would add language to existing New York state law providing that an “absence due to the mental or behavioral health of the minor shall be permitted under rules that [state officials] shall establish.”
Under state law, New York schools decide on a case-by-case basis what should count as an excused absence.
The bill would take effect in July 2020 if it is approved by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor.
Dr. John Garruto, president of the New York Association of School Psychologists, called for schools to also employ medical health professionals and treat mental health equally to physical health.
“It is important to bring mental health issues on par with physical health as valid reasons for students’ absences,” Garruto said in the Thursday statement.
“However, just as schools have nurses to address the physical health needs of students, they need to have the appropriate school-employed mental health professionals, such as school psychologists, to meet the social and emotional needs of students to prevent excessive absences due to these issues.”