New law encourages KY schools to excuse mental health absenses

WCPS and BGISD are already ahead of the game

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Some students are rejoicing this week after Kentucky legislators signed a law supporting students’ mental health.

Governor Beshear recently signed House Bill 44 into law. This law encourages Kentucky school districts to allow mental health and behavioral health reasons to count as excused absences.

The goal of the law is to make sure students are mentally fit for the classroom without facing punishment for missed time away from the classroom.

District 20 State Representative Patti Minter cosponsored the bill – one that easily received bipartisan support.

“This sends a really positive message that your lawmakers recognize, your governors recognize, that student mental health is crucial, just as crucial as physical health,” said Minter. “It helps to destigmatize it, and in places where they weren’t already doing, it just gives schools the push to excuse those absences.”

Minter proudly said that House Bill 44 was a student initiated idea. The idea came out of Kentucky Youth Assembly four years ago, and many of those same kids got to watch the bill get passed to law.

At both Warren County Public Schools and Bowling Green Independent School District, the districts are already one step ahead of the game – no legislation necessary. 

Director of student services Todd Hazel said, “If we have a student who needs an excuse for a mental health reason, we’re going to excuse that. We’ve been doing this for a long time.”

Hazel says when he started, there were only three workers in the Warren County Public Schools mental health field. Now, that number is 19, and he’s a fan of the upwards trend.

Hazel says he’s glad this law passed.

“Specifically in the school system, mental health has always been tabooed. You don’t talk about it. It’s something that you don’t get counseling for, you don’t see a therapist,” said Hazel. “I have more folks reaching out to me now wanting assistance.”

Minter agreed, “This is the right thing to do at  a time when our students are having more challenges than ever.”

Both Hazel and Minter believe that while the pandemic has led to a lot of heartache, the push toward opening up about mental help is something they both want to see evolve.