HALL MONITOR: “CAUTION” on Creating Excused Mental Health Days for Ohio Students (House Bill 38) 

Name: Ohio House Bill 38, Allow school districts to permit students 3 mental health days

Summary: Would grant K-12 students three excused absences to be used as mental health days. Would allow schools to refer students to school-based mental health services, social workers, and counselors if a mental health day is used. 

Status: In House Committee on Primary and Secondary Education

Sponsors: Representatives Willis E. Blackshear, Jr. and Jessica E. Miranda are the primary sponsors. Representatives Abudullahi, Baker, Brewer, Brown, Denson, Forhan, Galonski, Grim, Isaacsohn, Jarrells, Liston, McNally, Miller, Mohamed, Robinson, Russo, Somani, Upchurch, and Weinstein are cosponsors.

Bill Breakdown:

House Bill 38 would grant K-12 students 3 excused absences designated as mental health days, with the opportunity to make up any missed work, without requiring documentation from a healthcare provider. Schools may choose to excuse students from school or to create an in-school mental health program, outside of classes, for students to participate in during their mental health days. Schools may also refer students to school-based mental health services, including counseling, psychological services, or social workers, when a student takes a mental health absence.

Why is PDE Action cautious about this bill? 

Students mental health collapsed during the coronavirus pandemic, when schools shut down for months on end and students were unable to see friends, participate in athletics, and attend big life events like prom. Mental health support for students is absolutely vital. 

PDE Action believes, however, that parents—not schools—are best suited to make decisions about their child’s needs and care. This bill explicitly allows schools to refer children to school counseling if they take a mental health day, and allows schools to develop their own mental health programs for students. 

What we once knew as “school guidance counseling,” whereby a student meets with a faculty member to discuss classes and vocational options, has shifted more broadly to “school counseling,” which includes assessing a student’s behavior as well as social and emotional needs. The nation’s largest organization for school counselors, the American School Counselor Association is “firmly” on the side of “school counseling” rather than “guidance counseling.” 

The same organization advocates for school counselors to create gender support plans with transgender students. “School counselors recognize the responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student rather than outside confirmation from medical practitioners, mental health professionals or documentation of legal changes,” the organization states. The ASCA notes that parents may not always be notified about a child’s gender identity at school: “If students have not disclosed their gender identity to a parent or guardian and as a result their name and/or gender marker cannot be changed on their student records, their chosen/affirmed name should be noted as a “preferred name” in the system.”

As our partner organization, Parents Defending Education, has documented, schools are increasingly shutting parents out of their child’s life at school. More than 1,000 school districts have policies that say a parent may not be told if and when a child decides to live as another gender identity at school. 

If parents are not included in such sensitive matters already, why should schools be handed additional responsibility and authority over the mental health care of children? 

As the drive for mental health and counseling services in schools increases, so too should the guardrails for parents and families. Unfortunately, oftentimes, these services can act as a Trojan horse to implement social emotional learning, and imbed race and gender politics, in schools. 

Let’s make one thing clear: Children should have access to counseling, therapy, and other tools needed to support their mental health. However, before creating new programs it is vital for the health and wellbeing of families and children that proper guardrails are established to include parents in every decision about their child’s care. Ohio schools would be better served to protect student privacy and parental rights by incorporating mental health into their general health-related excused absence policy, rather than involving schools in conversations and care decisions about children’s mental health.