Radford school board, administrators researching attendance change to include mental health days

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Heather Bell

RADFORD – Radford City Schools Superintendent Rob Graham said Thursday the school board and administrators are in the initial stages of researching the possibility of adding mental health days to the school division’s attendance policy.

Graham and members of the school board received a petition Thursday with 349 signatures from community members hoping the board will consider the change. Graham said he and the board had already started researching the possibility before receiving the petition.

“At this point, we are just in the initial stages of discussion regarding this matter; we actually had started our discussions before we received the request and petition,” Graham said. “We have sent a request to other school divisions in Region VII to see what their policy may be regarding mental health days. Our board members and I have reviewed research to help us better understand student mental health issues in order to make the best decision for the Radford City School Division.

“In addition, I have spoken with the superintendent of the Montgomery County public schools regarding their decision to approve mental health days and have already shared some of the information from our conversation with the board,” Graham said.

The petition was sent to the board by Professional School Counselor, community activist and parent Janiele Hamden, who launched the petition effort on-line through Change.org two months ago. Titled “Stand For Our Students Petition,” it reads as follows:

“As you are all likely aware, recently our neighbor Montgomery County Schools, approved mental health days for their students. This is a progressive movement in the state of Virginia, and one Radford City Schools may consider if we are to be regarded as responsible educators and caretakers of our youth. This supportive posture is key in creating preventative mental health crisis strategies.

“In our community and in every community, there are a million reasons why this is necessary, and not one good enough to counter that position. While it is understood there are some who may attempt to take advantage of the proposed policy change, the positive impacts will far exceed any risk. Feeling unwell is not always visible or diagnosable with a quick trip to your family doctor. It requires time, support, and other resources to understand the physical and mental effects of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.

“When an individual is experiencing mental health illness, additional stressors such as social and academic requirements further complicate an already highly challenging journey. Creating the conditions for our youth to heal will maximize their potential and expedite recovery. It is past time to publicly validate our students and to ensure they feel the warmth and safety of our school community. It is imperative they know their school family and community are behind them.”

Hamden also offered the board a few suggestions for implementation if members choose to change the attendance policy. She suggested that administration and the school board together review the Montgomery County model and perhaps form a committee to serve as a liaison between the school and the community; that the administration initially offer two-to-five mental health days that require the approval of a health professional to be recognized as excused and formally documented as mental health days; that if the student reaches the maximum allotted number of days, a meeting is held with the appropriate administrator, the student’s teacher, the school counselor, their community health professional(s), and family or vested party, to develop an action plan.

Graham offered links to some of the research the board has done so far, in case community members would like more information on the subject. These include http://neatoday.org/2018/09/13/mental-health-in-schools/ Are Schools Ready to Tackle the Mental Health Crisis; https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-Ending-the-Silence NAMI Ending the Silence Program for Middle and High School Students, Teachers and Families; https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/mental-health/school-psychology-and-mental-health/school-based-mental-health-services  School-Based Mental Health Services; and http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rulesforengagement/2019/04/should_mental_health_days_be_excused_absences_these_students_think_so.html.