Mental health day enacted in Illinois schools

A new law will allow high school students throughout Illinois to be excused from up to five days of school for mental health related reasons. The bill, SB1577, will come into effect in January of 2022.

On Aug. 6, Governor J.B. Pritzker approved the bill after the proposition was sent to him on June 28. The pandemic has spotlighted the struggles students face in managing stress and their mental health.

The bill was passed in order to combat these issues.

“I think [5 days off] is a good amount…if you just wanted to take the whole week off, it’s there for you,” Saimiriti Gogineni (11) said.

In the 2020 and 2021 school year, many schools, including Vernon Hills High School, provided virtual learning to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. During this time, students did not have the classroom experience that they were accustomed to.

“[Virtual learning] definitely was super isolating and I think a lot of people experienced that and are still feeling the effects of it,” Tessa Stobart (9) said.

According to the Intercultural Development Research Association, 71% of students surveyed said that online learning during the pandemic added more stress to their lives than normal, in-person school.

“[Being in-person for school] helps a lot because I’m in person, seeing my friends, seeing more people [and] being more vocal, so it kind of helps me get my mind off of things,” Kassidy Connell (12) said.

In order to try to manage some of the stresses of virtual learning, Vernon High School took several actions including the implementation of office hours and school-wide surveys for students to report on their mental health.

“I think what we do here at Vernon Hills is trying to be proactive…we have counselors, we have social workers, we have teachers that care. We have prevention and wellness programs… It’s just really important that kids take advantage of that…,” DeAnn Firnbach, a counselor at Vernon Hills High School, said.

Students who wish to use a mental health day do not need to provide a note from a medical professional, as stated in the second section of the SB1577 bill. Students will also be given the opportunity to make up work they missed while absent.

The goal of mental health days is to relieve stress from a student and improve the quality of their mental well-being.

“If [kids] take a day off to see a therapist, to see a doctor, to deal with whatever’s concerning them – that’s productive. Otherwise, come into school, talk to the counselors, talk to the social workers,” Firnbach said.

Crafting a welcoming environment for students while they are in attendance is a part of Vernon Hills High School’s mission. Having teachers and a school that cares for one’s mental health needs is also important to students like Tessa.

“I would like to see teachers checking in on their kids one-to-one sometimes… I think that would be really helpful,” Stobart said.

According to House Committee Amendment Number 1 of the bill, after the second mental health day is requested by a student, it is within the school’s rights to contact the appropriate school staff member or support personnel about the student’s request.

“I think true mental health days start with receiving help and talking through it. Otherwise, it’s just postponing or delaying…intervention,” Firnbach said.