Students will be able to take excused mental health days beginning in January

Students in Illinois schools will be able to take up to five excused mental or behavioral health days beginning in January.

State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, an Aurora Democrat, co-sponsored the bill, which was signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this month. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Students who take mental health days will not be required to provide schools with a doctor's note and will be able to make up any work they missed.

"Having this now for all students across the state will be really beneficial, especially with what's going on with COVID," Hernandez said. "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. This will allow them to get the help they need."

After a student requests a second mental health day, a school counselor will reach out to the family to come up with a plan to get the student professional help. Students should understand that they'll have to have a conversation with an adult about whatever it is they're going through, Hernandez explained.

"I am really excited for this. I think it will help students, parents and teachers, and can help them understand what's going on in their students' lives. Many students are going through a lot mentally and emotionally and they need support," Hernandez said. "Another important thing is that they don't need to provide a doctor's note, so parents don't have to take their child into a medical provider. Parents can just call the school and let them know their student is taking a mental health day."

Administrators of northern Illinois school systems said they have already been working to tend to the mental health of students and are preparing to comply with the new law as well.

"District 303 staff members have always been committed to meeting the needs of the whole child and working with families to support students' mental health. That support will continue with the passage of this legislation," said Carol Smith, spokesperson for St. Charles Unit District 303.

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