Do kids need mental health days?

And is this a matter for lawmakers in a state that struggles with school attendance?

Parents write permission slips, not lawmakers. But a pair of Michigan lawmakers is working to change that.

Rep. Noah Arbit, D-West Bloomfield Township, and Sen. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, have sponsored nearly identical bills allowing K-12 students in Michigan up to five mental health days per school year.

Such things should be left between parents and schools. There shouldn’t be a law for everything. Thankfully, neither bill has received as much as a hearing. Lansing’s involvement in sick days sends several bad messages to kids. The worst among them is that lawmakers can give kids permission to skip school that parents, teachers and schools must honor without question.

Life is hard. But in many ways, lesson No. 1 is to keep showing up. School is where we first learn this lesson. The prodding to get out of bed and be productive comes from our first teachers and our parents. Unlike math or reading, this lesson isn’t taught on the blackboard. It’s earned when we leave warm beds to enter a cold world.

Why would your parents make you do such a thing? Because it’s important to learn how to be disciplined and do things you might not always want to do.

Mental health days granted on high from Lansing send a bad societal signal. It programs children to embrace their fragility, and it encourages parents to indulge this. It also involves the state in decisions best made by parents and schools.

We don’t need a new law. We need adults to think things through on a case-by-case basis. Is that too much to ask?

Michigan schools already have an attendance problem. In 2022-23, 31% of students in Michigan were chronically absent, meaning they missed 10% of the school year. In 2021-22, 38.5% of students were chronically absent.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the dividing line. In 2018-19, the last full year before the pandemic, 20% of Michigan students were chronically absent. That was still too high.

Then schools were shut down. Some students in Michigan had only intermittent access to a classroom education for the better part of two school years. A school attendance habit built over decades was ruined in weeks. Rebuilding it won’t be easy. And mental health days won’t help.

Five free mental health days per year would be a burden placed on kids, not a gift given to them. Missing days does not mean missing work. It only makes the stack bigger when the student does return.

Schools and school days exist to help lay the building blocks of education. Of course, kids won’t always feel like going. Those days are often when it’s most important that they do go. On the occasion a kid needs a day off, the parent is the best judge.

James David Dickson is a Detroit News columnist and managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at This column ran first in The Detroit News on March 13.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.