Montgomery County floating idea of mental health days
The Montgomery County school district is considering allowing mental health days for absences.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. – Concerned over the toll this pandemic is taking mentally on Montgomery County Public Schools students, the Board of Education voted this week to have the acting MCPS Superintendent change the student attendance regulation, to now include “mental health and well-being” as an excused student absence.
READ MORE: Montgomery County parents ask why hundreds of kids continue to remain on wait-list for in-person learning
FOX 5 is told this is not official yet, but does have strong support from the acting superintendent, who begins her role on June 1.
“The difference here is really the verbiage. The wording. Words matter to students and it matters to parents. I think it sends out the message that you don’t have to say it’s a just like traditional sickness illness or a traditional physical sickness, but we are acknowledging the fact that it is okay to take days off for your mental health without having to give some false reason as to why you’re taking that day off,” said MCPS BOE student member Nick Asante, who pushed for the measure.
BOE member Karla Silvestre commented during the Tuesday meeting, “As a parent who has written notes to the school, when my daughter said, ‘I can’t go today. I’m just so stressed out. I just need to stay home and study and get myself together.’ When I wrote this note, I said, ‘What do I say? She’s not sick.'”
READ MORE: MCPS to train middle school teachers on de-escalating situations involving student conflicts
County leaders say this is especially important for suicide prevention as suicide has been the second leading cause of death for young people.
In Montgomery County, Department of Health and Human Services Spokesperson Mary Anderson tells FOX 5 the county reported eight suicides of people 24-years-old and younger in 2019. That number rose to 10 in 2020.
Anderson also confirm the county’s mobile crisis teams have made 657 visits since FY 2021 to this past April. That’s a 68% from FY2020.
One grandparent became emotional when FOX 5 asked about the toll the pandemic has taken on his grandchildren in school. Another parent said his daughter is doing very well and hopes some parents don’t choose to abuse “mental health” excuses.
A suicide prevention advocate tells FOX 5 the county, fortunately, has not seen a large increase in suicides so far, but they have seen an explosion in the number of calls for help.
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Those suicide prevention activists, like Rachel Larkin with the Rockville-based organization “EveryMind”, tells FOX 5 suicides have been the leading cause of death for young people. In the pandemic, Larkin says they first saw a spoke in crisis hotline calls for those 18 to 24-years-old. Then 13 to 24-years-old. Larkin says they are now seeing more calls from those 12 and younger and welcomes the calls as a sign of young people trying to get help.
DHHS has this site to help to help Montgomery County’s younger residents navigate mental health assistance.
FOX 5 did ask around to surrounding school districts. I’m Prince George’s County, we’re told one excused absence per-semester for mental health reasons is allowed. The Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson tells FOX 5 FCPS follows guidance passed by the 2020 Virginia State Legislature, that did add mental health as an excused absence.