What does a “mental health day” mean at a New Trier?

Students can use up to 5 days during the year to reduce stress.

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WikiMedia

Mental health absences were adapted into New Trier policy in January 2022. A check in is required after 3 are used.

While signing out for an absence, you might’ve realized the relatively new option to take a “mental health day:” a new category for an absence if one needs to stay home from school for mental health reasons. 

Introduced in January of 2022, the mental health day absence was adopted into the New Trier attendance policy after the introduction of Public Act 102-0321. 

The Act states that Illinois schools are required to provide students with up to 5 mental health days and that the student doesn’t need to provide a doctor’s note. In the case of this kind of absence, students are provided with the opportunity to make up for their missed school work.

After the 2nd mental health absence, the student should be referred to the appropriate school personnel. 

New Trier however allows for 3 days before a student will be addressed about the number of mental health days. The school also contacts the student’s adviser about the number of mental health absences in order to maintain an open communication with the student. 

Scott Williams, Assistant Principal of Student Services, highlights the importance of the ability to take a mental health day. 

“It is for if a student has a need to be able to take a mental health day. We respect people being able to use that as they see fit.” 

Staff are also allowed to take mental health absences, but they would take the absence off on benefit time, which basically puts the absence under the category of a sick day. 

Although Williams wishes that students wouldn’t have a need for mental health days, sometimes, in different situations, they are necessary for a student to take. 

“Sometimes we do need a break, and that is what [a mental health day] is meant for.” 

After 5 days of mental health absences, the procedure that New Trier follows with students needing more is slightly unclear. According to Williams, while the option to take a mental health day doesn’t go away in PowerSchool, once that 5 day threshold is reached, there is some more monitoring, as well as communication with family that the school needs to do in regards to the student’s health. 

I found it helpful. I was having a really stressful week, and having that day to regroup really helped me prepare for the next day.”

— Jane Baisley

According to Williams, a single period taken off for a mental health day counts as a mental health absence toward the 5. So, if a student needs a partial day of mental health absence, it counts as 1 of the 5 absences regardless of the time taken off. 

Prior to the Act, students most likely still needed this option to take a mental health day, they just didn’t have the option to name their absence as one for mental health reasons. Instead, students would most likely name these absences as sick days, which doesn’t accurately represent the reason for these absences.

Williams reflects on the importance of this bill and the transition from sick days to mental health days. 

“In my personal opinion, I think that it was a great law. While New Trier was always in the mindset of understanding students’ emotional health, mental health, and social-emotional needs, this law just kind of forces and highlights that.” 

Senior, Jane Baisley shared her experience with a mental health day. 

“I found it helpful. I was having a really stressful week, and having that day to regroup really helped me prepare for the next day.”