District Updates Absence Policy in Wake of Student and Parent Concerns

Bella Carter, Reporter

Starting this year, all students in the West Springfield school district will be able to have absences excused without a doctor’s note or other documents that were required in previous years. In this new policy, students will each have three days per year of parent excusable absences, should they “need to recover [from illness], even from the mental aspect,” according to principal Danby. News of the policy change was sent to parents via email from both the principal and superintendent, as well as through Talking Points. Though they’ve communicated this to parents and families, the administration has done little to spread this news directly to the student population. 

This policy change was made due to the efforts of our student representatives wanting mental health days and parents concerned about unexcused absences with reasonable causes. School Council representative Sara Woytowicz commented that student representatives in the student council brought the mental health day idea forward, and Mr. Danby, armed with student and parent support, brought the absence policy change idea to the district. Woytowicz’s counterpart Sarah Debian stated that “the student representatives on the School Council did not work directly on that project, we just voted to approve it.” 

While this absence policy is not explicitly just for mental health days, they are able to function in that way. The Garden State Treatment Center recommends that you take a mental health day when you feel irritable and you’re having trouble focusing. Dr Andrew Kuller from the McClean Hospital (an affiliate of Harvard medical) says “For somebody to get the most out of a mental health day, being mindfully present is very important,” he said. “You don’t want to just listlessly drift through the day.” Alongside that, former senior editor from the Child Mind Institute, Rae Jacobsen writes, “kids [should] be intentional about using their mental health day to rest and care for themselves”. This is a gentle reminder to not waste your mental health days, but take them when you need them. 

Several students already know how they would spend their days off in the event of burnout. “I would take a hike,” Bradley Geughan said, “I’d be one with nature”. Geughan said that connecting with nature would really benefit his mental health. The Mental Health Foundation encourages connecting with nature, as people who are are reported to be happier in their lives. 

Angele Ofori reported that she would “sleep… I don’t get much sleep, I get about six to seven hours. If I had a day off I could sleep about eight to ten hours. And it would help me think about things”.  The Sleep Foundation agrees with this sentiment, finding that proper sleep relates to both mental and emotional health. Similarly, Kayleigh Neville stated, “[I would] take a spa day, think about things,” and when asked how that would help her, she responded, “It would take away the stress that I’ve been having for like a while. It would let me breathe for once you know?” The National Institute of Mental Health finds that self care helps your mental health, and can even lower your risk of physical illness. All of these are good ways to spend a mental health day, with real positive effects bringing out the best in our students.

The district and administration have been working on addressing the needs of the student body, and this is shaping up to be a well received change in the high school.