TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A new bill proposed in the Florida 2022 legislative session would allow mental health providers and counselors to write excused absence notes for students.

Current Florida law allows for excused absences from school to be set by individual school districts. Unexcused absences are decided by state statutes.

The proposed legislation, House Bill 289, only makes a small change to the existing statutes, but the impact could be big for students and parents. The Senate version, SB 1070, is identical.

All HB 289 does is expand who can provide an excused absence note. Specifically, it changes the requirement from “licensed practicing physician” and expands it to also include “or other licensed professional as determined by school board policy.” While it doesn’t seem like a big change, the legislature’s analysis of the bill spells out what it would actually do for students taking a day off from school.

For example, in Hillsborough County, the school district considers the following as accepted reasons for absence, contingent upon a note from a parent or guardian submitted within three days of the absence:

  • Personal illness of the student – A student who has demonstrated a pattern of absences due to illness may be required to present medical verification the principal.
  • Court appearance of the student
  • Medical appointment of the student – A note from a health care provider may be required.
  • An approved school activity – Absences will be recorded but not reported.
  • Emergencies that are acceptable to the principal
  • Other absences as approved by the principal – A written request from the parent/legal guardian is submitted to the principal at least three days prior to the date of absence. The parent will be notified of the decision.
  • Attendance at a center under Children and Families Services supervision H. Accident resulting in injury to the student
  • Significant community events with prior permission of the principal – When more than one school is involved, the Area Superintendent will determine the status of the absence.
  • Observance of an established religious holiday

“The bill allows a district school board to determine other licensed health care professionals—in addition to licensed practicing physicians—who may write a note for a student’s excused absence,” the analysis said. “This would allow for licensed mental health providers and counselors to write a note for an excused absence based on a student’s mental wellbeing.”

Effectively, this would allow mental health illnesses or concerns to qualify as an excused absence, so long as it meets revised rules from the individual students’ school district. The bill has already begun its committee review process. If it passes, it will take effect July 1, if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it into law.

Kim Roberts Henderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for Thriveworks in Tampa. She says the proposed legislation is long overdue.

“To provide students an opportunity to use days they can prioritize their mental health is huge,” Henderson said.