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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: June 11, 2021 01:26 PM
From: Senator John I. Kane and Sen. Judith L. Schwank
To: All Senate members
Subject: Helping Our Students Achieve by Creating Student Mental Health Days
The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges for students in K-12 schools. Some students livestreamed their classes, some participated in hybrid programs, and some attended in person school 4-5 days a week after a period of remote learning. Students faced new challenges, from wearing masks to maintaining a 6-foot distance to using plexiglass barriers to protect themselves, their teachers, and fellow students from outbreaks of covid19.
Our schools were important partners in taking the hard steps to ensure that students were able to learn, safely, without exposing their families and homes to COVID-19. While necessary, these changes caused significant stress on our students. Over half of all students reported that the pandemic had taken a toll on their mental health. Mental health was already a significant issue among students and youth -- nearly 10 percent of youth cope with severe major depression, and 60 percent of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents.
Student mental health is just as important as physical health, and normalizing support for students with mental health issues has increased in the last several years. Both Oregon and Utah have passed legislation with broad, bipartisan support to allow students to take excused absences for mental health reasons. We will introduce legislation modeled after the Utah law that allows students to take excused absences to help them treat and recover from mental health issues.
This legislation offers several benefits. First, it helps normalize mental health supports, and encourages students to take care of their mental health as they would their physical health. By guaranteeing mental health days, students can recognize that their struggles are not strange, and support is available. Second, it provides schools with additional insight. Students struggling with mental health often skip school, with or without an excuse; this legislation will allow schools to connect students with essential supports rather than simply punishing them.
It is time to help students who are struggling with mental health issues get the resources, support, and help they need. We hope you agree and will cosponsor this legislation.

Introduced as SB844