Get Parents’ OK for Mental Health Evals on Students: HB 384 (2013)

I am writing in support of HB384 an act requiring parental consent prior to the administration of a mental health examination to students in public schools.

Below, you will see Federal Law “Right to review Curriculum” United States Code, Title 20 1232h Protection of pupil rights. I’d like to highlight:

 (a) Inspection of instructional materials by parents or guardians.  All instructional materials, including teacher’s manuals, films, tapes, or other supplementary material which will be used in connection with any survey, analysis, or evaluation as part of any applicable program shall be available for inspection by the parents or guardians of the children. Limits on Survey, Analysis, Evaluations, or Data Collection (United States Code, Title 20 1232h)

(b) Limits on survey, analysis, or evaluations.  No student shall be required, as part of any applicable program, to submit to a survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning— (2) mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family. (I’d also like you to note United States Code, Title 20 1232c.)

(c) Surveys or data-gathering activities; regulations:  Not later than 240 days after October 20, 1994, the Secretary shall adopt appropriate regulations or procedures, or identify existing regulations or procedures, which protect the rights of privacy of students and their families in connection with any surveys or data-gathering activities conducted, assisted, or authorized by the Secretary or an administrative head of an education agency. Regulations established under this subsection shall include provisions controlling the use, dissemination, and protection of such data. No survey or data-gathering activities shall be conducted by the Secretary, or an administrative head of an education agency under an applicable program, unless such activities are authorized by law.

Federal law clearly supports the student’s privacy rights and parental rights when conducting surveys or evaluations on students. HB384 aligns well with Federal Law in support of parental rights.

HB384 does not seek to outlaw evaluations. It simply ensures parents are notified and included in the process.

Why is this necessary? In the past, organizations like “TeenScreen” were used as a way for schools to conduct “mental health check-ups” on students. The push for nationwide mental health screening for school children began during the Bush administration.

One of the main organizations conducting mental health screenings on students is TeenScreen. Their stated goal is to “[e]xpand early detection of mental illness by mainstreaming evidence-based mental health checkups as a routine procedure in adolescent health care, schools, and other youth-serving settings.” Given the recent school shootings, there is justifiable concern for the mental health conditions of our youth.

However, if you watch this video from from Pinellas County, Florida, you will see that TeenScreen was eventually removed from that district after concerned citizens spoke up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjEkh84rgLk&feature=player_embedded

I asked Marcia Angell M.D., Harvard Medical School professor of ethics, to testify at today’s hearing. Unfortunately, she is out of the country for 6 weeks. I think her analysis of TeenScreen offers a critical view that’s worth noting. According to Dr. Angell, programs like TeenScreen are “just a way to put more people on prescription drugs” and increase sales of antidepressants.

This is the worst of all possible worlds. First, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and related SSRI antidepressants work no better than placebo. But even more sinister, rather than decreasing risk of suicide, they actually increase it when used by adolescents. The FDA requires that these drugs carry a black-box warning label stating this fact. Psychotropic drugs also raise risk of violent behavior. A large number of the school shootings and other violent crimes that have swept the country in recent years were related to the use of psychiatric drugs.” http://www.cchrint.org/cchr-issues/mental-health-screening/

While I am not a medical doctor, I would like to emphasize that there are serious concerns regarding organizations that conduct mental health evaluations on students. I’m not here to advocate for or against these evaluations, but rather to support a parent’s right to evaluate the organization and give written permission.

Evaluations may be necessary as determined by the school and the parents. If that is the case, the evaluation will go forward. However if a parent determines there is a serious concern about the organization conducting the evaluation, they’ve been informed and have the opportunity to seek an alternative. For these reasons, we encourage you to support HB 384.

—Ann Marie Banfield for Cornerstone Action. This testimony was repeated when the bill had another hearing in March 2014.