The idea that mental health is just as important as physical health has been extensively studied and proven true. Some states and school districts have recognized this by allowing students to be excused from school for mental health reasons just as they are for physical reasons.
But while PAUSD has taken steps to provide mental health resources for students, including establishing counseling services and a Wellness Center, it has yet to take the additional step of allowing students to take excused days off for mental health reasons. PAUSD should take this step, and in doing so will help destigmatize mental health by treating it as on par with physical health.
Under Education Code 48205 and Administrative Regulation 5113, PAUSD follows California law by allowing excused absences for student illness or health appointments. Although California law clarifies that “health appointments” includes mental health appointments, it is unclear whether mental health falls under the category of excused “student illness.”
Director of Student Services Jason Krolikowski said although district officials might be interested in discussing the idea of mental health days, calling in an absence for that reason results in an unexcused absence. However, he also said he sees value in establishing mental health days to help destigmatize mental health issues and allow students to advocate for their own needs.
PAUSD should make this change, and it can start by examining what other districts who have adopted this policy have done.
The Sacramento City Unified School District and the Poway Unified School District are both districts that successfully moved to establish excused mental health days. Isa Sheikh, the student board member who championed the proposal for SCUSD, said making this change starts with the superintendent creating a board policy clarifying the definition of absences for “health reasons.”
From there, the board of education votes to approve or not approve the policy. I urge our superintendent and school board to follow suit.
Gunn student board representative Thomas Li said the positive impacts of establishing mental health days was part of what motivated him to bring up the idea at PAUSD’s March 9 board meeting. He said he thinks creating excused mental health days would add another layer to the three-tiered mental health support system PAUSD offers.
And although it is inevitable that some students will take advantage of these days, whatever students choose to do during their time away from school will likely benefit their mental health.
Students should urge the superintendent and board of education to explore this idea by speaking during open session at school board meetings or by reaching out to their Paly student board representative senior Medha Atla.
We are living in a time where physical health is prioritized more than ever, and mental health should be too. Many students have less opportunity to access their normal support systems such as friends and extended family members during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place, and establishing mental health days allows students to take care of their mental health just like they have always been allowed to take care of their physical health.