In 2021, I received the worst news of my life – my father died unexpectedly in the middle of my 7th-grade year at Stephenson Middle School in Long Beach. As my mom sat me down to explain what happened, the world around me seemed to fade into a blur and I was overwhelmed with pain, grief and emotions I have never felt before. Within days I was on a flight to Ohio for the funeral, and while I should have been focused on mourning his passing, instead I found myself worrying about missing school, getting behind in my coursework, and losing my place on the football team for falling behind.
A bill authored by Sen. Angelique Ashby, D-Sacramento, Senate Bill 350 is making its way through the state legislature. The bill is important because it would expand the amount of time students can be excused from school following the loss of a family member. It would ensure students like me are able to focus on our grief and healing and I hope it soon becomes law.
Healing should not have a timeline, it does not happen overnight. Yet under current law, they want students to only have one day to grieve. Healing varies from person to person and it is critical that students are given the time to address their trauma. Before my father’s passing, I held a perfect attendance record. I loved the social and academic aspects of school and especially the opportunity to play football on my school team. For students like me, whose grades and attendance are super important, it was hard, knowing that my absences would not be excused, even though it was not my fault that I had to miss school.
The loss of a loved one can have a huge impact on our emotional well-being, mental health, and overall ability to engage effectively in schools. When students are allowed the time to process their grief, they can return to their studies with a clearer mind, a lighter heart, and a renewed focus. Expanding bereavement leave for students isn’t just about time off; it’s about acknowledging how complex and different our experiences are and the importance of empathy in creating a supportive learning environment.
Some say that students may take advantage of this new law and that extending bereavement leave could disrupt the academic calendar. However, careful planning and communication can address these concerns. By setting clear guidelines for eligibility and ensuring that students communicate their needs, the system can be designed to accommodate both the students’ grieving process and the academic requirements. Additionally, implementing a comprehensive support network, including counseling services and academic accommodations, can help minimize any potential disruptions.
The traditional view of education often emphasizes academic achievement above all else. However, the truth is that the grieving process is a natural and necessary part of life. It cannot be neatly scheduled between exams and assignments. It is time we recognize the need to expand bereavement leave for students, allowing them the time and space to grieve without sacrificing their education.
Expanding bereavement leave through Senate Bill 350 would offer students like me the opportunity to heal without compromising our grades. SB 350 would allow students to have up to five days of excused absences to attend funerals and to deal with our mental health.
It would provide the space to confront new and difficult emotions, from sadness and anger to acceptance and eventual healing. In doing so, we would be fostering not only healthier individuals but also a more compassionate and understanding community.
Quaran Reed, now 14, lives in Long Beach and is a freshman at Millikan High School.
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