Tampa Rep. Susan Valdés has filed legislation to address mental health among Florida students.
The bill, HB 849, adds language to the current statewide school attendance statutes to include mental health issues as an excusable absence.
Specifically, it states that attendance could be excused from sickness or injury, “either physical or mental,” as attested by a written statement of a licensed practicing physician.
“We talk about mental health, and emphasizing its importance, yet nowhere in attendance policy does it allow for school boards to really think about mental health,” Valdés said. “It’s is just a matter of codifying that mental health is as important as physical health.”
The bill, if passed, would give school boards more flexibility with attendance policies in regard to mental health, Valdés said.
“By being able to change four words in the statute we’ll make a heck of a difference for many students across the state of Florida,” she said.
The bill was inspired in part by the Parkland tragedy, Valdés said, which drew attention to the mental health of school children.
“Life is different for kids today,” she said. “There’s a conversation around mental health … because we all know that if things are not going well mentally, your body aches are harder, physical ailments become more predominant.”
Sen. Darryl Rouson filed a Senate version of the bill, SB 1158. If passed, the bill would become effective July 1.
Mental health in school-aged children is a priority of Valdés’ this year. She is also planning on working with other lawmakers on a bill that would revamp the Baker Act to ensure it is used appropriately.