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Montgomery County School Board votes in favor of allowing mental health sick days

Students have pushed for change in excused absence policy

BLACKSBURG, Va.UPDATE

Montgomery County School Board unanimously voted in favor of the proposed mental health policy on Tuesday night.

ORIGINAL STORY

Local students are urging school leaders to make a change in their absence policy.

Montgomery County School Board members could vote Tuesday night to allow students take days off school for mental health reasons.

Some Blacksburg High School students led the push for change.

“It's mainly a youth-led movement to help ourselves and help our peers. It's something new and it's something we're all fighting for together,” senior Carson Hopkins said.

They feel Montgomery County students should be able to have an excused absence for mental health reasons, just like when they're physically sick.

“It's okay to take a step back for a day or for two days or for however long they need so they can do their best and perform their best,” senior Connor Marks said.

They know some kids will take advantage of the policy, but they feel the benefits outweigh those actions.

“If it can help just one person on one day in one classroom, I think that that's enough,” senior Christian Shushok said.

Some in the community have voiced concern over the potential for students to abuse the new policy in order to skip school.

“For the people that are denying it because they say that our generation is composed of pansies or they’re too weak or they’re too sensitive, the safety of your youth are at risk here,” Shushok said. “You’re risking the lives of teenagers when you hold those viewpoints.”

Many students voiced frustrations after the departure of one of their teachers. They questioned if the move was because he shared mental health concerns with students, a reaction which helped jumpstart these efforts, they said.

School board member Mark Cherbaka is in favor of the policy.

“It should be treated like any other illness. It shouldn't be stigmatized and I think this policy is a step in that direction,” he said.

He thinks the policy will pass Tuesday night.

Montgomery County may be the first district in Virginia to do this. A state education department spokesperson said Virginia districts are able to add mental health reasons to the list of excused absences, but they're unsure if any others have done so.

Areas in Oregon and Utah have made similar changes and the state of New York is considering the move.


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