(The Center Square) – Two bills in the Ohio Legislature would expand the number of days students could use as excused absences to six – three for religious activities and three more for mental health.
After recently passing the Senate, the House now gets a bill that would require K-12 public school districts to give students three excused absences a year for religious holidays or religious activities. Students would not be penalized for being absent, be able to make up work and would still be eligible to compete in sporting events.
“Today, many students of diverse religious backgrounds in our K-12 public schools have to choose between attending school and practicing their faith,” said Sen. Michele Reynolds, R-Canal Winchester. “The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and religious expression, and no student should be penalized or have grades suffer due to practicing their religion.”
While Senate Bill 49 has not received a hearing in a House committee yet, several religious groups – including Ohio Jewish Communities, the Catholic Conference of Ohio, and the Center for Christian Virtue – supported the plan while in the Senate.
Only the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie provided opposition testimony, saying the bill is not equitable because it excludes non-religious students.
Also, the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee has a proposal to give students three mental health days per year without penalty.
School districts could excuse students from attendance completely or provide an in-school mental health program for students to attend instead of regular classes.
The days could not be used on days when standardized tests are scheduled.
A similar bill was introduced in the previous General Assembly but failed to pass.
“In introducing this bill during the previous General Assembly, my colleague and I realized just how needed this legislation is,” said Rep. Willis Blackshear Jr., D-Dayton. “Many students and counselors reached out to us in support of the bill and the efforts to allow our students to prioritize their mental health at an early age. The need to address the mental health of our youth has never been greater, and we have an amazing opportunity to take action now.”
House Bill 38 has received one hearing with only sponsor testimony.