Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1577 into law, giving all K12 students the ability to call in an excused absence for mental health reasons. Students may call in up to five days off before requiring a doctor’s note after the law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
The bill was sponsored by 29 legislators from both the Illinois House and Senate. The bill was spearheaded by Rep. Lindsey Lapoint of Illinois’ 19th district and passed unanimously.
“The main point of the bill is it allows students in Illinois to cite mental health as a reason for an excused absence,” LaPointe said.
The event would be treated just like any other excused absence, meaning that the student would be required to have time to make up any missed work.
For students who call in two or more mental health days, a referral to school support personnel is made. “Beside just allowing students to call off, schools have to offer some type of support,” LaPointe said. “Bills and laws don’t mean much unless people take steps to follow them.”
LaPointe, a former social worker, decided to take over for Rep Deb Conroy, who initially created the bill.
“She initially filed this bill way back then,” LaPointe said. “But she kind of gave it to me because she thought I’d be a great person to watch over it, and it just made so much sense to me.”
LaPoint further explained that during her time working as a social worker, she was able to see what families needed in order to learn about mental health. “It became very clear that not every family talks about mental health,” LaPointe said. “And we need to give them that access.”
This law comes with a group of similar others. Pritzker has recently taken action on several mental health issues as he passed two other bills on Aug. 25 that include legislation for mental healthcare insurance and first responder programs.
According to the New York Times, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia all have similar legislation to deal with the increasing youth mental health following the pandemic.
“All the difficulties, transitions and crises that every single one of us has had to go through have been a lot,” LaPointe said. “Especially for young people who already have the stress of school in their lives.
Even apart from pandemic related stress, others believe the law is an important step in the process of de-stigmatizing the conversation around mental health.
“I know it’s hard during those teenage years.” Bill co-sponsor and House Representative Barbara Hernandez said. “My parents whenever I would tell them that I felt a certain way, or if I was depressed and they would just say, you know, ‘why are you depressed? You’re young, you have everything, you shouldn’t be depressed.’ That was a stigma my parents have and a lot of older generations still have.” Hernandez hopes that by implementing news protocols and laws, the taboo nature around mental health will diminish.
LaPointe further agreed with this point about destigmatizing mental health issues, and urged students to seek out options to further the cause. “Don’t be afraid to start those conversations and to have a meeting with your elected officials,” She said. “Because at the end of the day, that’s the origin story of every bill, and law or change. Somebody had an idea and put it forward and started a conversation.”