Excused Mental Health Absence For Students

Sep 11, 2019 by

If the theme of proposed legislation sounds compassionate and serves to provide name-recognition to an ambitious politician, what’s wrong with that?  

If state senator Brad Hoylman’s bill becomes law, students will be able to take mental health days off from their school and their absence could not be held against them, presumably even if it’s just on their word of honor. Such days would be treated the same as days taken for physical infirmities.

Nobody can argue that this is a decent idea. Hoylman cites “self-harm” as a “public health crisis among young New Yorkers, and correctly identifies the “stigma around mental health care” that too often inhibits kids  from openly acknowledging their pain and conflict and seeking help.

Such crises are relatively rare.  No doubt some students will take advantage of this permitted absence and abuse it.  Privacy rights limit schools’ ability to verify a claim and perhaps it would defeat the entire purpose of the legislation to actually oversee it.

Will students be able to be absent from school because they’re having a “bad day” , meaning they want to skip a classroom activity for which they are unprepared? This sounds insensitive, but everyone knows that would be the rule, not the exception.

If invoking the mental health explanation is the “open sesame” for hanging out on the street with impunity, what can be done to thwart kids “getting over “on school authorities?

It’s always been the case that if children are hospitalized or have a serious matter of which the school had been apprised, they are not penalized, regardless of district policy or state law. That’s decency and common sense.

But what, exactly, is a “mental health” day, anyway?  

Gone are the days of getting into trouble in school even when transparently playing hooky. Whether for attendance, scholarship, or disciplinary offenses, the DOE scarcely enforces standards anymore, although in theory they do. After all, it’s still on the books and they can point to it.

Their more devout priority is that data lend itself to manipulation and contortion so as to conjure an apparition of progress being made.

Statistics are their tools for perpetuating illusions. The media and the public are the targeted consumers.

Frankly, there is nothing to stop kids from not going to school for any pretext.  For one thing, teachers are often afraid of dealing with the increasing breed of  resistant parents and the principals who are under orders to pander to them.

Kids serving superintendent’s suspensions, which are becoming rarer and of ridiculously abbreviated duration often don’t show up for much of their suspension period and with no penalty or justification.  Elementary-school students, especially, are sometimes gone from school for many consecutive weeks, even months, to visit their families abroad.

No problem.

Nobody questions or whether they are “permitted absences” under state law. Even if they were not, neither the students’ family nor school officials would likely  bother to do much about it.

So who are we kidding? 

State Senator Brad Hoylman is an honorable and thoughtful person. His concept of permitting absence for mental health issues is commendable but needs crafting.

But in a sense it may also be superfluous and redundant, because the lines of what is permitted and what is prohibited are so blurred as to be indistinguishable.

Ron Isaac

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