By Mallory Butcher, associate editor

NOVEMBER 2022 — Following the COVID-19 pandemic, a new conversation about the importance of mental health arose in the United States. Two years later, mental health remains on the minds of many, though they may be unsure of how to improve it in their own lives. One recommendation often proposed for workers and students is to take a mental health day.

For students in need of a break to recuperate their mental health during the school day, the counselor’s office at the Rootstown campus contains the sensory room, pictured above. Within the room are different types of seating, fidget toys, background noises, and other supplies that can be used to help visitors calm down. Photo by Mallory Butcher, associate editor.

A mental health day is when a student or employee takes time off, not for physical illness, but to enhance their state of mind. Such breaks can help people boost morale and productivity, according to McLean Hospital’s article, “The Benefits of Taking a Mental Health Day.”

Bio-Med Science Academy junior Colton Gotham elaborated, “It’s better to take the day off than go to school and cry. You don’t really want to be around people that you’re friends with and crush any relationships, because you’re stressed, angry, and sad.”

According to the Bio-Med Student Handbook, a student’s absence may be excused if  “the student’s physical or mental illness” prevents them from being present.

A parental guardian must notify the school through a note or email explaining the reason for the student’s absence. Extended absences for medical purposes must be documented to avoid unnecessary discipline.

“I took some [mental health days] at the end of last year. It helped me a lot. I always thought I’d waste so much time doing one, because I had stuff I needed to do, but I ended up being able to work four times as efficiently because of it,” said Cooper Lappe, another junior at Bio-Med.

Teachers, however, have a different procedure to take a mental health day.

Chief Operating Officer for grades seven through nine Randy Rininger Kline explained, “Each month, [the teaching staff will] accumulate sick time. Those are saved in our account, and we can use those.”

If educators take a mental health day at Bio-Med, most use one of their sick days. Within the state of Ohio, a teacher’s sick time accumulates at the rate of one and one-fourth days per month. This number will travel with teachers as they change jobs over to a different public school in the state, tracking from their first year to their most recent year.

Staff must provide a note from a doctor for their absence if they take five consecutive sick days.

“Typically, staff don’t have to give a reason. If somebody takes a sick day, I don’t need to know what’s going on with them,” added Rininger.

Though supported by Rininger, the Ohio Revised Code does not directly endorse teachers taking a mental health day.

Above pictures a screenshot taken from “Frontline Education,” the website teachers use when they need to call for sick or personal days. The image presents two variations of why educators may call time off. To the left displays the calendar staff must scroll through to select the date they will be taking off. The right is then two drop-down menus. The top menu contains a list of different reasons for the absence, and the bottom contains what time frame the staff member will be out, of which one of each must be selected. In the top left corner is a green button labeled, “Create Absence,” one a teacher would click on to schedule the time off. Photo provided by Randy Rininger Kline.

According to Section 3319.141 of the Ohio Revised Code, instructors “may use sick leave for absence due to personal illness, pregnancy, injury, exposure to contagious disease which could be communicated to others, and for absence due to illness, injury, or death in the employee’s immediate family.”

Due to no specific inclusion of mental health in reasons teachers may take off sick, not all of the staff feel comfortable discussing when they take mental health days.

Biomedical Engineering instructor Elissa Fusco recalled a time a few years ago when a representative from the Educational Service Center (which handles paychecks and leave for Bio-Med employees) was asked if teachers could use sick time following the death of a pet. The representative reportedly laughed at them.

In response to that event and with no clear support from the state, Fusco said, “No teacher will be honest about why they take a sick day.”

Fusco has done her best to avoid taking mental health days by breaking down the problem and creating an action plan.

“I think mental health days are something where you’ve reached a breaking point,” she explained. “You have to ask yourself, ‘How did I get to this breaking point?’ That’s where boundaries at work come in. You’re not just taking this day, that day, this day, that day. I feel like with mental health days, again, it’s something being caused by other things rather than just one pinnacle day.”

Many teachers that have worked at Bio-Med for a while, however, are open with others when they take a mental health day. One of those teachers includes freshman integrated language arts teacher Brian McDonald.

“This is the only place [I’ve worked] where I’ve actually had one of my admin suggest [mental health days] as a way to handle the stresses of grading and all this stuff going on,” McDonald recounted. “Our admin people being open to that sort of thing, I think, is important.”

Rininger said he has had no issue with staff members “abusing” sick days.

He asserted, “If you’re not feeling well, then you’re not feeling well. If you need to take a day, then take a day.”

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