State Bill To Give Teachers Still More Time Off With Mental Health Sick Days

A state bill looks to address the growing teacher crisis by adding mental health paid leaves days to teacher benefits.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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mental health

It seems lately that anytime new legislation is proposed by lawmakers regarding education, teachers are fighting against it. But in a rare instance, a new bill proposed by Illinois lawmakers has the full support of the state’s teachers’ unions. As the bill heads to the House for discussion, policymakers and educators alike all agree that mental health concerns for the teacher workforce are crucial.

SB 3914 looks to add five extra paid days off for teachers in regards to mental health. The bill was first proposed in January by Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel, a Democrat from the state’s 49th district. The bill has received sweeping support in the Senate, as all 54 members voted in favor to move the legislation forward at the end of February.

As it was originally written, SB 3914 sought to add five additional paid leave days for teachers in Illinois in regards to mental health. The bill did receive amendments, however, on the Senate Floor. Through some changes, school boards may require a certificate from a mental health professional licensed in Illinois showing that the employee received ongoing care or treatment. Furthermore, amendments detailed that such documentation would be required if employees were absent on mental health accounts over three days in a row. 

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As it currently stands under Illinois school laws, teachers and educators receive a minimum of 10 sick days per year. Most districts throughout Illinois similarly allow employees to roll over unused sick days from year to year without a limitation. In Chicago public schools, teachers receive as many as 13 paid sick days based on tenure and experience. The district also gives five bereavement leave days with an additional allowance of up to five days of sick leave to be used on top of bereavement ones. Adding five extra paid leave days for mental health could have a huge impact on educators.

In a state education meeting last Wednesday, state leaders shared a poll that said that one in three teachers in the state were ready to quit their jobs. Stressed out, the pandemic has had a big play in the increased need to address mental health standards in every work sector, but largely within education. Teachers increasingly deal with more serious, and often violent situations in schools. Student mental health crisis takes more time away from teachings, as employee’s not necessarily trained to support such efforts are often tasked with dealing with it anyways. On top of that, politics have driven a divide between teachers, lawmakers, and parents.

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A report conducted by the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research institute, recently showed that more than three-quarters of teachers nationwide reported job-related stress. This elevated number was significantly higher compared to the 40% of the general population that reported job-related stress. However, other recent analyses have shown that teachers are still not leaving the profession in a mass exodus, but plenty of experts fear that the event may still come if the mental health crisis isn’t addressed properly. 
Last year, a survey found that only six percent of surveyed teachers received emotional support from their school or district in the past year. Illinois SB 3914 may not address the support teachers receive for mental health, but it’s a large stepping point in breaking ground in the movement. The legislation headed to the state House last night for further discussion as it makes its way to becoming law in Illinois.