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Education Reporter

MN, FL Pass Pro-Parent Laws on Mental Health
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Minnesota this year became the first state in the country to prohibit schools from coercing parents to either medicate their children with psychotropic drugs or submit them to mental health screening. In addition, universal "developmental" screening for toddlers was defeated in the 2005 legislative session. Senate Democrats tried unsuccessfully to require screening at least once by age 3, according to the nonprofit organization EdWatch.

In 2001 Minnesota became the second state in the nation to pass a prohibition against school coercion of parents to drug their children with stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall. Subsequent incidents of coercion involving other types of drugs, such as antidepressants, convinced sponsors of the need to expand the 2001 legislation beyond the class of stimulant drugs. This year's education bill covers all psychiatric medications, not just stimulants.

Florida this year enacted a bill containing similar protections against forced medication or screening. The new law states: "A public school may not deny any student access to programs or services because the parent of the student has refused to place the student on psychotropic medication. . . . A parent may refuse psychological screening of the student."

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. in March vetoed a pro-parent bill that would have blocked school officials from recommending psychotropic drugs and prohibited the removal of a minor from parental custody based on the parent's refusal to administer psychotropic drugs. Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona vetoed a pro-parent bill on mental health screening. The Texas legislature, which passed a pro-parent bill on psychotropic drugs in 2003, declined to pass a universal mental health screening bill in May. (See Education Reporter, June and July 2005 and Dec. 2003.)

Legislation calling for mental health screening in schools is being considered in many states in the wake of recommendations by President Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. (See Education Reporter, Feb. 2005.)

IL plan covers 0-5 years 
At press time, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was reviewing his administration's final plan to "increase early intervention and mental health treatment services and supports for children: Ages 0-5 years." A plan to link the state Office of Mental Health with various state agencies and every school district in the state was required by the Illinois Children's Mental Health Act of 2003, which passed both houses of the legislature with only one opposing vote.

State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Westmont), who co-sponsored the original Illinois bill, says it went much further than she intended. She wants to sponsor new legislation requiring families to opt into the school mental health screening programs, rather than having to opt out. (School Reform News, June 2005)

In July the federal Child Medication Safety Act went into effect, requiring state education agencies to bar schools from keeping students out of class in cases when parents disagree with a recommendation to medicate a special-needs child with Ritalin or similar stimulants. Rep. John Kline (R-MN) wants to expand the act (passed late last year as part of a reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act) to include all psychotropic drugs including antidepressants.

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