Washington students can now be excused from class for mental health reasons

A new law that goes into effect on June 9 will allow Washington students to be legally excused from school for mental health reasons. 

Under H.B. 1834, students will be able to be excused from school if they are experiencing symptoms related to mental illness or challenges to their mental health. The excused absence also applies for counseling and related treatment. 

A doctor's note or medical diagnosis are not required for the excusal. 

The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 11. While it is effective as of June 9, schools will likely implement it in September for the 2022-23 school year. 

In March of last year, Inslee issued an emergency proclamation, declaring a child and youth mental health crisis. The proclamation was in response to re-opening schools and the impacts students were feeling from "continued isolation" due to the pandemic. 

According to reports from Seattle Children's Hospital, in 2021, the psychiatric unit was, at one point, the most over-capacity and over-stressed part of the hospital. 

The hospital also reported at the time that "unlike before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now normal for one to two children to be admitted every night at Seattle Children's for attempted suicide." 

At Mary Bridge Children's hospital, 'the 14-day medical admission rate for mental health reasons increased approximately 67% from March 2020 to February 2021." The hospital reported in 2021 that 60% of patients admitted to medical wards for mental health reasons were ages 15-18. 40% of those admissions were from patients 14 years and younger. 

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will communicate with districts later this month about implementing the new rules.