Sen. Eric Buckson opposed a bill that would allow students to take mental health days.

Senator opposes mental health days for students

Jarek Rutz Headlines, Education

Sen. Eric Buckson opposed a bill that would allow students to take mental health days.

Sen. Eric Buckson opposed a bill that would allow students to take mental health days.

A Republican senator believes Delaware’s youth needs to toughen up so they aren’t lost in the world when they grow up. 

Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, said in Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting that anxiety is a vital part in a child’s development, and he was opposed to a bill that would allow students to take mental health days. 

House Bill 3, sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, provides excused absences for the mental or behavioral health of a student. It also specifies that any student missing two days due to mental health to be referred to a behavioral health specialist. 

According to a recent CDC survey, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an existing mental health crisis for students. 

“One in five school aged children has a mental health condition, and 45% of children may have experienced a traumatic event,” said Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin and chair of the committee. “Each school district and charter school are able to determine the maximum number of excused absences allowable.”

Creating more opportunities for students to miss school is a problem when the state is already challenged with rebounding from the pandemic, both in terms of student achievement and absenteeism, Buckson said.

“There are plenty of kids that have real mental conditions,” he said, “but when you take a young person who just needs to go through stuff, it’s vitally important that in our schools they develop those calluses learned in a hallway or by having to get up and go to school if they don’t want to by facing their anxiety.”

He recalled the nerves his own daughter had when entering middle school. 

“It was a terrifying experience for her… but she went anyway,” he said. “With this type of language, she doesn’t have to go now.”

Sturgeon said the bill does not add any additional off days and does not eliminate penalties for students who are chronically absent. Rather, it establishes mental health as a legitimate reason for missing a day. 

Mental health and physical health are intertwined and very much dependent on one another, she said. 

“This isn’t about a student who’s having a little first day of school jitters or feeling a little sad over a situational event,” Sturgeon said. “This is about indeed, anxiety and depression and any other mental health disorder that is truly a diagnosed disorder or maybe not diagnosed yet, but with the help of a behavioral health specialist that they’d be referred to, would be.”

Allowing these absences and not challenging students to push through mental health struggles, he said, will result in them “being 18 or 20 and not knowing how to deal with the world.”

Buckson also took issue with the fact that students won’t have to provide any documentation if they take a mental health day. 

He said the bill injects students into the world of mental health struggles when they don’t need to enter that conversation to begin with. 

“Anxiety, like depression, is not a mental condition that needs to be diagnosed,” he said. “Strong depression, real depression and real anxiety is, and growing that and adding kids to it that just need to go through [those emotions] will harm them.”

The bill passed, though, and is headed to the Senate floor.

Senate committees do not vote in public on bills. They sign the legislation in secret and those interested have to wait until the information is posted on the bill tracker. 

Also Wednesday:

  • House Bill 4, sponsored by Longhurst, will give more behavioral health support to school districts and charter schools after a traumatic event that’s connected to the school. The bill defines this as the death of any student, educator, administrator, or other building employee of a public school. The Department of Education is tasked 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. HB 4 heads to the Senate floor.
  • House Bill 116, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton and chair of the House Education Committee, requires public institutions of higher learning to grant credit for advanced placement examination scores of 3 or higher. Most colleges now require a 4 or 5. An institution may require a score higher than 3 if the credit is for meeting a course requirement for a particular major or program. The college or university must publish its advanced placement score policies on its website so prospective students are aware of the score requirements. HB 116 heads to the Senate floor.
  • Senate bill 156, sponsored by Sen.Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington,  provides teachers who previously worked as paraprofessionals in schools to receive partial credit towards their experience on the teacher salary scale for their time in that position. The bill points out that there’s situations under the current salary scale for teachers where a permitted paraprofessional in a school becomes a certified teacher in the same school, they may have to take a pay cut. Lockman said this will help combat the teacher shortage as well as potentially diversify the workforce. SB 156 heads to the Senate floor.

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