Student Well-being the Focus of Senator Anthony J. Portantino and Assemblymembers Evan Low & Kansen Chu’s Effort to Allow Mental Health Excused School Absences
Sacramento, California – State Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D - La Cañada Flintridge) and each of the two Assemblymembers have introduced bills to address this important issue. Portantino’s Bill, SB 849, will allow students from elementary school up through high school to be able to take days off from school due to mental or behavioral health issues. Under current education code, mental and behavioral health problems are not eligible for excused absences. More and more school age children in California are dealing with depression, anxiety and other forms of behavioral issues creating serious health risks, including suicide. This is a serious problem in the State’s education system that warrants Legislative action because schools don’t recognize these issues as legitimate reasons for being absent.
“As a parent, I try to be sensitive to our school children’s needs as our society changes. In particular, mental health issues are very important to me as too many of our children grapple with depression, anxiety and other challenges. Excluding these children from having the ability to take time off for their well-being continues a potentially harmful stigma associated with the issue. We need to be bringing mental health out of the shadows so our children can get the care they need, not penalizing districts and families for a legitimate health issue. I am very happy to collaborate with my Assembly colleagues on this very important issue,” commented Senator Portantino.
Throughout his career, Senator Portantino has made education and mental health two of his most important priorities. He has promoted efforts to further research into youth substance abuse, which oftentimes can be linked with mental health issues. Additionally, he authored legislation to put the suicide hotline on the back of student ID cards so that struggling kids have a better chance to reach out for help. Lastly, he authored SB 328 which pushed school start times back for middle schools and high schools. Decades of research have shown that students achieve better health and welfare from increased sleep. Later school start times are associated with decreased levels of depression. Representative of his efforts on these issues, the Senator was recently recognized with The Children’s Hero Award by the California Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Breaking down stigma around mental health for the next generation is incredibly important,” said Assemblymember Kansen Chu (D-San Jose). “I am grateful to have Senator Portantino as a partner in this effort to bring awareness and promote access to mental health support for children. This is an important step forward to encourage help-seeking and conversations on school campuses about mental health.”
Being that the Senator focuses on education and mental health, this legislation is important to him as it will improve outcomes for both of these issues. The Centers for Disease Control believe that the percentage of children aged 3-17 that suffer from depression and anxiety have steadily risen this century, while also estimating that approximately 4.5 million children in that age range have a diagnosed behavior problem. It is time for the legislature to work to improve on these troubling facts and this bill will help to do that.
“Our students need to know that their mental health is just as important as their physical health,” said Assemblymember Low. “This legislation will help to destigmatize discussions of anxiety, depression, and treatment so that students experiencing mental health crises feel less alone.”