NewsPinellas County


Should Florida students get mental health days off of school?

Posted at 5:23 PM, Oct 15, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A new bill just filed in Florida could allow kids to take a day off school each semester as a mental health day.

From academics, to bullying, to active shooter drills and the threat of school shootings, Tampa Representative Susan Valdes says students are under a lot of pressure.

St. Petersburg High School Senior Renata Hupple agrees.

“As a senior, I'm working to apply to colleges, finish my homework in IB classes and balance extra-curricular activities," she said. "A mental health day would really help with that stress that’s overloaded on us.”

Valdes wants students to be able to take a day to focus on their mental health. In House Bill 315, filed last week, Valdes says parents would need to explain to their child's principal that the reason for the absence is mental health, no other questions asked.

Mental Health Counselor Doctor LaDonna Butler, of the Well For Life Center says that's crucial. “This is one way our community is saying it’s ok to not be okay," she explained.

Florida falls behind some other states. In Oregon, students get 5 mental health days per school year. Utah recently added mental health days. New York leaders proposed a law in September that would open the doors for student mental health days.

The Florida bill would leave it up to individual school districts to enforce the absences.

Some critics argue students already get enough days off school with holidays and teacher institute days, but Butler says those days don't always coincide with a student's mental health needs.

“If we are interested in our public safety and the health of our community, this bill must pass. Mental health matters,” she added.

Florida leaders say mental health days could help lower suicide rates, prevent school shootings and keep kids healthy.

The bill could be discussed as early as January; when the next legislative session begins.