New Law Goes Into Effect Giving Students Five Excused Absences for Mental Health Days Without a Doctor’s Note

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

After a particularly difficult year for children due to the pandemic, Illinois passes a law allowing them five excused absences for mental health reasons without the need to document it with a note from their mental health service provider.
Illinois passes law allowing children five excused absences for mental health days (CC BY 3.0 Network

Starting in April 2020, the number of pediatric mental health emergency visits to the hospital increased significantly and continued to be high for the next six months. Compared with rated from the previous year, mental health related visits for children ages 2-11 years increased almost 25 percent while similar visits for children ages 12-17 years increased by 31 percent.

In addition to the fear and trauma caused by the pandemic, there were other likely reasons that children were in need of mental health services at a higher rate than before. As of the beginning of April 2020, schools were closed in 188 countries which meant that 90 percent of students worldwide or as many as 5 billion youth were out of school according to UNESCO.

These closures meant that there was no longer any access to the school mental health resources for children and adolescents who needed them.

In recognition of the difficulties faced by children during the continuing pandemic, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker passed a law that went into effect January 1, which allows students to take up to five days off for mental health reasons. These days will be automatically considered excused absences and students will not have to bring a doctor’s note as documentation.

According to the bill, now absence that is caused by illness is required to include:

“the mental or behavioral health of the child for up to 5 days for which the child need not provide a medical note, in which case the child shall be given the opportunity to make up any school work missed during the mental or behavioral health absence and, after the second mental health day used, may be referred to the appropriate school support personnel.”

See what state politicians and mental health experts say about what children are facing in Illinois and nationwide due to the pandemic and how the new law will help:

State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, who co-sponsored the bill is excited about the law, feeling it will not only help the students but will also better enable parents and teachers to know what is happening in the children's lives.

"Having this now for all students across the state will be really beneficial, especially with what's going on with COVID," said Hernandez. "Many students feel stressed, and have developed anxiety and depression because they're not able to see teachers and friends, and may have lower grades due to remote learning. Many students are going through a lot mentally and emotionally and they need support."

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Chicago, IL

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