HBHS Mental Health Policies: What Should You Know?

Tess Walshe, Team Leader

Students are struggling. Now more than ever high schoolers are overloading their resumes in hopes of getting into a good college and stress is at an all-time high.  The State of California even found that “between 620,000 and 1,240,000 of California’s 6.2 million students enrolled in K-12 schools are estimated to have a mental health condition.”  

Huntington Beach High School (HBHS) students are no exception. Though HBHS has a mental health support team, most students still feel burnt out and aren’t fully aware of the policies our school has in place. According to a survey conducted by Ella Acciacca, a senior at HBHS, over 85% percent of HBHS students struggle with burnout.  

How burnt out are HBHS students?  Graph based on statistics collected by HBHS Senior (Ella Acciacca)

Despite having plans of action in place to deal with psychological problems, the average student isn’t informed, and we are still faced with a mental health epidemic.  70% of students say the school has not properly informed them of their student rights and the other 30% only feel they have received a little information.  So what is our school actually doing to support students and how can we use it to our advantage?

How informed are HBHS students about their rights?  Graph based on statistics collected by HBHS Junior (Tess Walshe)

Attendance:

Though implementing mental health days is not yet a state-wide requirement, our attendance office is currently treating these issues very similar to a sick day.  When a parent or guardian calls their student out due to mental health, attendance clerks mark it as a sick day, an excused absence, and makes a note mentioning a psychological issue.  If a pattern is noticed, the clerks flag the student and contact our school psychologists to check in.  

Beginning in 2024, a bill will come into action that “calls for mental health days to be counted as sick days and mandates mental health education as part of the curriculum,” according to ABC 7 News.  

Though this does not add excusable health days, tracking which students need help will likely become much easier.  This will also require school staff and administrators to allow students to rest and hopefully provide proper education on mental health issues.

Students in California also reserve the right to miss school for “certain medical appointments” with an excused absence, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California (CA).

Along with this, the ACLU states that schools are required to keep this information confidential, even from parents.  They may call to confirm a medical appointment, but cannot ask what it’s regarding.  

Absent Work Polices

Following these absences, teachers must allow students to make up any missed assignments. “For excused absences, students are allowed one day for each day they are absent. Anything beyond that is up to the teacher,” says Dave Yonts, an assistant principal at HBHS.

According to the California Education Code “A pupil absent from school… shall be allowed to complete all assignments and tests missed during the absence that can be reasonably provided and, upon satisfactory completion within a reasonable period of time, shall be given full credit therefore. The teacher of the class from which a pupil is absent shall determine which tests and assignments shall be reasonably equivalent to, but not necessarily identical to, the tests and assignments that the pupil missed during the absence.”

Yonts recommends that students follow the HBHS communication process when there is an issue regarding absent work or other assignments.  It should be noted that following a filed complaint about a deviation from these policies, students will likely not be notified of any action taken. According to Yonts, “We are not allowed to discuss specific actions or outcomes of any meetings with personnel with others per [the] California Education Code.” 

Psychological Support Personnel and Confidentiality Rights:

All CA students 12 and above have a right to access mental health treatment, along with any other health services, without any outside permission and with protected confidentiality.  This means any medical provider cannot disclose personal information to anyone without your consent, including the school, with some exceptions.  If a physician believes that it is necessary to involve a parent to avert harm from their patient or others — “the threat to the patient’s health is significant and the physician has no reason to believe that parental involvement will be detrimental to the patient’s well-being” or if the patient consents — a medical provider is required to discuss concerns with your parents or guardians, according to the American Medical Association.

HBHS has a team of three psychologists and a counselor on their Wellness team. Each person is meant to support struggling students. “Anyone can come down to the Wellness Center,” says Michelle Pendergast, our Student Support School Psychologist.  

“A student may request to go to the Wellness Center at any time,” says Yonts.  

No policies, either legally or through the administration, were mentioned requiring teachers and staff to answer the said request with a yes.

If you would like to come in, iPads are available in the health office to schedule an appointment or you can fill out this form.  You will be called in within one school day.  For emergencies, it is recommended that you contact the California Youth Crisis Hotline, 800-843-5200, by either texting or calling.

Other than making your own appointment, when will you be called into the Wellness Center?  When there is a concern regarding a student, “teachers and staff (attendance/guidance/supervision offices) refer students for grades, homelife concerns, attendance issues, or [social-emotional] issues,” says Pendergast, “We take student…, parent…, teacher and staff referrals,” she adds on.

A big concern students have when visiting a school psychologist is confidentiality.  Many times the topics you want to talk about aren’t necessarily information you would like to share with your parents or teachers.  In most cases, nothing you share with anyone at the Wellness Center will leave the room, but there are exceptions. “There is no confidentiality when it comes to safety concerns, which is when we contact a parent,” Pendergast says.  

If a psychologist does decide they need to reach out to a guardian, it is likely you will be made aware.  Pendergast says “many times students are in our office when we make phone calls to parents. We usually ask if they want to be present when we call.”

In the event of a serious safety concern, another adult will be contacted. Pendergast says, “Harm to self, harm to others or someone harming the student (any type of abuse or neglect) would be when we would connect with another adult in order to make sure the student gets help for the issue.”

If you are wondering about more specific policies, Yonts says, “Our website along with the District website have a wealth of information about policies and guidelines that apply to students, the community, staff, and administrators.”

The California Department of Education also has great resources about statewide laws. Yonts ends off by saying, “it is important for students to ask questions about policies or procedures that they have questions so they completely understand the expectations of a class, teacher, the school, etc.”

Resources:

To register for an in-person appointment with a psychologist or counselor fill out this form or visit the health center.

Emergencies:

California Youth Crisis Hotline:

Call or text, 800-843-5200

District Complaint Form:

https://4.files.edl.io/875f/02/01/19/190654-e8fcab30-e96c-456d-9084-02146ee43566.pdf 

More Information on Student rights:

https://www.myschoolmyrights.com/ 

School Board Policies:

https://www.hbuhsd.edu/apps/pages/board-policies 

Education Code:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codesTOCSelected.xhtml?tocCode=EDC&tocTitle=+Education+Code+-+EDC 

Absences

https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ai/tr/#reasonsforexcusedabsences