Bill would excuse student absences for mental health

Rep. Bobby McCool, of Van Lear, and Rep. Lisa Willner, of Louisville, are co-sponsoring the bill.
Rep. Bobby McCool, of Van Lear, and Rep. Lisa Willner, of Louisville, are co-sponsoring the bill.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — An Eastern Kentucky lawmaker wants to allow students to be excused from school for mental health reasons.

Republican state Rep. Bobby McCool, of Van Lear, has joined with Democratic Rep. Lisa Willner, of Louisville, is sponsoring the bill.

“Anxiety and depression were concerns before the pandemic,” McCool said. “Now, with so much uncertainty in their lives, our children are suffering with mental health issues in record numbers. I think it speaks volumes that it was brought to us by high school students who know firsthand how trauma has impacted their lives. Stress is their new normal, and I’m proud of them for identifying ways to manage it.”

The legislators were approached with the idea for the bill by two students — Cole Butcher of Johnson Central High School and Kameron Julian of duPont Manual High School in Louisville.

Butcher shared that the measure will have an impact beyond the excused absence by opening conversations about mental health and helping schools identify students who may benefit from additional mental health resources.

“After seeing some alarming data about the state of students’ mental health during COVID-19, I decided something needed to be done to assist in preventing the worsening of students’ mental health as kids reintegrate into in-person schooling,” Butcher said. “This bill allows students to take mental health days, but the true effects are broader. In rural Kentucky, there is a stigma among parents regarding their children’s mental health. This bill would make headway in breaking this stigma. If parents see that schools are taking mental health seriously by adopting these mental health days, then parents may be more open-minded to take their children’s mental health seriously and have those tough conversations.”

The bill will be considered during the 2022 General Assembly, which begins Jan. 4.