November 17, 2004

Concerns About Mental Health Screening Legislation

Recent reports and rumors that Congress is passing mandatory mental health screening legislation have been circulating the airwaves and media outlets. HSLDA has been watching and working behind the scenes on this issue for some time. Our concern stems from any attempt by the government to usurp the right of parents to direct the medical decisions of their children, including what medical tests their children receive and who tests them.

Unfortunately, the media reports have often been inaccurate. There is NO mandatory mental health testing requirement being imposed upon states or local schools. However, there is still a cause for concern and a need for continued vigilance.

The Labor HHS appropriations bill contains block grant money that may be used by the States for a number of different programs at their discretion. Some critics are concerned that states will use this money to implement some form of mandatory mental testing program for all students throughout the school system. This concern stems largely from recommendations of New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, a non-policy making body created by President Bush in 2002 to propose ways of eliminating waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness of the mental health care delivery system. The Commission went far beyond their mission and recommended that schools be used as the means for discovering mental health problems.

The Commission's report does not specifically recommend screening ALL students. However, one could foresee how the recommendations in the report might lead to the mandatory screening of every child. For example, the report stresses that a major problem comes from undiagnosed children. They also suggest that "schools are in a key position to identify the mental health problems early and to provide a link to appropriate services." Any proposal that would lead to mandatory testing is dangerous and clashes with the principles which govern a free society.

Keep in mind, this commission has no legislative or executive power. Congress legislates and the Department of Health and Human Services implements policy.

The House and Senate HHS appropriations committees have appropriated $20 and $40 million respectively which could technically be used by each state to implement some form of mental health testing. This wouldn't be much more than $600,000 per state which is far short of the money needed to implement a mandatory system.

Congressman Ron Paul (TX-14) and others are currently working on committee report language that would require parental consent before any mental testing could occur.

HSLDA will continue to oppose attempts by the federal government or states to implement a mandatory testing system. It strikes at the heart of parental rights. This issue is not likely to impact homeschoolers directly at this time. If any mental health testing program is implemented by a State, it would probably begin with the public schools. Nonetheless, HSLDA continues to follow and oppose any attempt to usurp a parent's right to direct the medical decisions of their children.