Mental health was a theme of three bills in the House Education Committee.

Student ‘mental health days’ bill among 5 on way to House 

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

Mental health was a theme of three bills in the House Education Committee.

Mental health was a theme of three bills in the House Education Committee.

A busy day in the House Education Committee Wednesday – headlined by a law that would give students mental health days – ended with five bills sent to the full House. 

House Bill 3, sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, provides for excused absences for the mental or behavioral health of a student. It requires any student taking more than two such excused absences to be referred to a behavioral health specialist. 

Longhurst said the bill helps destigmatize mental health while also flagging potentially troubled students to prevent them from hurting themselves or others. 

She said that a CDC survey showed the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an existing mental health crisis for students, and one in five school-aged children have a mental health condition, with 45% of children having experienced a traumatic event. 

Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, admitted he had a hard time understanding what behavioral health means. 

“’My understanding is one of the huge problems we have in our schools today is a lack of discipline among the students,” Collins said. “Nobody can learn when they’re not disciplined, and that’s what I’ve heard from many teachers as to why they’ve left the profession or why they would not go back into it. So why are we legislating in this area?”

Several legislators pointed out that behavioral health is often a byproduct of student anxiety, and can manifest itself into students not being engaged in class or self-isolation.

“They may have anxiety, they may have ADHD, they may have a host of characteristics that create them to not be able to function in school,” Longhurst said.

Collins took issue with one aspect of the bill, which states a student won’t be penalized for an excused absence for behavioral health and must be given the option to make up any schoolwork.

He said back when he was in school, one of the biggest incentives to show up was to not miss work or tests and to avoid getting failing grades.

Under the bill, whoever handles attendance would be responsible for alerting a school psychologist, counselor, nurse, or other behavioral health specialist and referring a student to them if they take two mental health days. 

Also Wednesday:

  • House Bill 4, sponsored by Longhurst, intends to provide more behavioral health support to school districts and charter schools in the aftermath of a school-connected traumatic event, which is defined as the death of any student, educator, administrator, or other building employee of a public school. The Department of Education is charged with developing guidance, best practices, and written resources for schools dealing with a school-connected traumatic event. It will be called Nolan’s Law, named after a student at Wilmington Charter School who committed suicide on Jan. 2, 2022.
  • House Bill 137, sponsored by Rep. Krista Griffith, D-Greenville, changes the Delaware crisis text number and the National Suicide Prevention call or text line. The number is required to be printed on pupil identification cards for all public schools serving students in grades seven to 12 and for all students attending public institutions of higher learning in Delaware. This Act takes effect for the 2023-2024 school year. People can call or text 988 for the National Suicide Prevention line or call the National Domestic Violence line at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
  • House Bill 138, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton and committee chair, pertains to teacher recruitment and retention. It establishes a Delaware Educator Apprenticeship Program to be developed by the Department of Education. The department will work with the Department of Labor to create a program that places aspiring teachers in paid positions in schools, while the teacher candidates complete the training and schooling necessary to become a Delaware credentialed teacher.  
  • House Bill 66, sponsored by Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, adds required information to annual reports issued by the Department of Education, which are called School Performance Data Reports and are available on the department’s website as the Delaware Report Card. It adds elements such as career pathways offered at a school.

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