New Illinois law to allow students five mental health absences beginning in January

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – At the start of the new year, Illinois students public school students will be allowed to take off five days for mental health purposes.

Illinois joins states such as Arizona, Virginia, and Colorado that has passed similar legislation.

In March 2020, as COVID-19 changed everyday life for adults across the world, children were no exception.

“Their access to school has changed, their access to their recreation, and other services, churches, everything like that has changed,” said Ann Bohls, behavioral health clinician at UnityPoint Health-UnityPlace.

Bohls said the stress children have experienced has led to an uptick in families seeking help.

“We’ve noticed an increase in children seeking mental health services by about 31 percent,” Bohls said.

In Peoria County, education leaders are supporting mental health by encouraging students to contact professionals, trauma-based approaches, and ensuring teachers are knowledgeable.

“They need to have education in the mental health field so they are at least aware of what’s going on,” Beth Crider, Peoria County Regional Office of Education superintendent.

Beginning in January, students will also have new support from the state. An Illinois law will allow students to take off five days for mental or behavioral health reasons, without requiring a medical note.

“It’s important to me that we end the stigma of what is mental health. If you need a sick day, you need a sick day,” Crider said.

The law also helps identify when students need more than just a day off.

“If children are requesting more than one day, they are then directed to counseling,” Bohls said.

But there are still questions about how schools should implement the new law.

“How do you call that into the school? How do we record it in all of our various systems” Crider said.

As schools work on adjusting to the guidelines, Crider said most importantly, she hopes that families and students get care when they need it.

“Because again, that healthy whole child that shows up to school, that’s the child that’s ready to learn,” Crider said.

Bohls said identifying signs of mental health struggles can also start at home. For example, she said if a child becomes quiet when they’re normally outgoing, it’s time to start looking into what’s going on.

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