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Washington students to get ‘mental health day’ excused absences

Students in Washington state will be allowed to take as many excused absences as needed for mental health reasons beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Students in Washington state will be able to take time off from school for mental health reasons beginning in the 2022-23 school year. The changes stem from a new state law meant to support students who are struggling.

Under the new law, which went into effect June 9, students will be allowed as many excused absences from school as needed for mental health reasons without a doctor's note or medical diagnosis needed.

House Bill 1834 required the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to direct schools to allow for the excused absences for mental health reasons and work with advisory committees to develop and publish the guidelines.

The changes come after Gov. Jay Inslee declared a youth mental health crisis in March of last year. The proclamation Inslee issued in March 2021 cited mental health as a reason for students to have the option to return to in-person learning.

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Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that suggested one in three high school students experienced "poor mental health" during the pandemic, and half "felt persistently sad or hopeless.”

Public Health — Seattle & King County reports suspected suicide attempts increased in middle schoolers in July through September of 2021, compared to the previous two years. The Washington Poison Center also said suicide attempts among female teens are up as well.

“It could not be more clear that we have a crisis in behavioral health, mental health in our youth,” explained Leo Flor, King County Department of Community and Human Services.

The OSPI will be briefing school districts on the rules surrounding absences before the start of the next school year.

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