Editorial: Parent notification a good idea for depression screenings

Published Apr 18, 2013 at 05:00AM

If school districts decide to screen a classroom of students for depression, current law does not require them to inform parents.

House Bill 3474 would change that, requiring that parents be given a chance to opt out.

Written testimony presented to the House Education Committee focused on the value and risks of the screenings themselves, but the bill’s language is about informing parents and allowing them or the student to refuse to participate.

As amended last week, the bill requires that two weeks before a screening, the school district “shall mail written notice of the mental health screening to the last-known address of the family of the student.”

The notice would advise that either the student or parent can request in writing that the student not be screened, and allows the student to refuse on the day of screening. The bill also says results cannot be included in students’ education records. If the district wants to screen an individual student rather than a whole grade or classroom, it would need the written permission of a parent, as it does now.

The Albany Democrat-Herald reports that the issue is of particular interest to the Lebanon Community School District, which recently completed a pilot program to screen seventh-graders for depression. They collected permission forms from parents — not required by law — and screened 60-70 of the nearly 200 students. They found about 15 percent of the screenings showed the students needed help.

Advocates for mental health screenings argue that screening can help troubled students, but it can be seen as a significant invasion of privacy. It also further erodes time and effort at school that should be spent on learning.

HB 3474 addresses just one piece of this complex issue, requiring notification and allowing parents and students to decide not to participate. That’s important protection and deserves support.

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