UPDATE: Governor signs student mental health bill into law

Mental health can be used as an excused absence from class

Update from May 12, 2022:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Governor Andy Beshear on Thursday signed House Bill 44 into law during a ceremony at the State Capitol in Frankfort.

The law allows mental health to be used as an excused absence from class.

Gov. Beshear was joined at the signing ceremony by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman and students.

“While we’re excited about House Bill 44, which will allow the school districts to draft an attendance policy that will allow mental health as an excused absence, we want to go further.  We want to allow six excused mental days days per school year,” said Marion County High School student Charlie Browning.

Part of the ceremony included recommendations shared by students on how the state can help those suffering from mental health issues.


Original story below from January 18, 2022:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Kentucky House of Representatives wants public school students to know their mental health matters.

House Bill 44 allows absences for mental health reasons to qualify as an excused absence. The bipartisan measure cleared the House floor by a unanimous vote on Tuesday.

Rep. Bobby McCool, R-Van Lear, and Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, are the primary sponsors of HB 44. The pair worked on the bill with three high school students over the summer.

“It’s important because it brings mental health issues to the level of conversation without fear of any type of stigma,” McCool said on the House floor.

Both McCool and Willner described the bill as a simple change to current statute.

“(HB 44) requires local school districts to include in their attendance policies provisions for excused absences for student mental or behavioral health status,” Willner said. “It doesn’t add extra days for absences, but simply makes it explicit that mental health is health.”

According to Willner, she and McCool have not encountered any opposition to the bill. She added that it has the support of school counselors, psychologists, teacher groups and other mental health and education related groups in the Commonwealth.

Both McCool and Willner hope the bill helps reduce the stigma of mental health, and that it lets Kentucky’s students know that their elected representatives care about them and their mental health.

Their legislation, which would require schools to recognize mental health as a reason for an excused absence, was recommended last year by high school students within their respective communities — Cole Butcher of Johnson County and Kameron Julian of Jefferson County – as well as Amira Bowman of Marion County.

“I’m so proud of the students from across Kentucky who brought the idea forward to allow excused absences for student mental health days. This is their bill, and it makes explicit that mental health is health. I think that’s one of the important lessons the pandemic has taught us,” Willner said.

“This bill represents one important step in supporting student mental health, but there’s more work to be done. I hope that the passage of HB 44 in the House today sends a clear message to Kentucky students that their elected representatives are listening to them, and that we care about them and their well-being.”

 The House voted 94-0 to approve HB 44. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

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