Medford School District: mental health days a “symbolic move”

MEDFORD, Ore. —  “The social environment for kids… can be very stressful,” said Dori Best, Mental Health Clinician at Jackson Elementary.

Best sees kids struggling with mental health issues firsthand, almost every day.

“Anger issues, some forms of depression,” she said.

Best says it’s especially shocking how many express thoughts of suicide.

“More often than I wish I would be… it’s a real concern,” she said.

With one of the highest suicide rates in the country, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill into law in June that will allow students to have excused absences for “mental health days.”

“It’s a concern here. It’s a concern everywhere. We have lost students to suicide,” said Natalie Hurd, Medford School District.

As the need continues to grow, Hurd says the district has added additional staff devoted to helping students who are battling mental illness.

“We recognize mental illness is real and that students are often struggling,” she said.

Hurd says the law allows the district and others to put a clause in their absence policy that adds “mental health” as an illness.

“Really, it is a symbolic move,” she said. “We have always honored mental health as part of overall health.”

Although it doesn’t mean a major change, the district hopes it will break the stigma around mental illness and get students the help they need.

“The school needs to change some part of the structure so they can support the kids when they miss those days of school,” said Best.

While Best agrees the new law brings necessary attention to the issue, she says simply giving students “time-off” won’t solve the problem, especially if students fall behind academically.

“Maybe they won’t be punished by their absences, but someone has to try and put those kids back up to the level where they should be,” she said.

The Medford School District says there will be no additional days off and parents or guardians still need to call to say their child will be absent from school.

NBC5 News reached to several other school districts including Eagle Point, Grants Pass, and Central Point about what the new law means for their policies and haven’t heard back.

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