Garfield Re-2 president proposes district opposition to statewide mental health screening program
Opponents of a new bill seeking yearly mental evaluations for Colorado students sixth grade through high school seniors fear an existing state law could allow students as young as 12 to seek in-person health screenings without parental consent.
Called House Bill 23-1003, school districts can opt in to allow voluntary mental evaluations administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Garfield Re-2 School Board President Tony May last week proposed that the district openly oppose the bill, calling it a “governmental overreach.”
“This is about the state stepping in and taking the parental and guardian authority away from the parents,” he said, adding that a board vote on any resolution opposing the bill is for “parental rights.”
“The state is inserting themselves as a surrogate decision maker.”
The Woodland Park School District just west of Colorado Springs passed a similar opposition resolution in April.
Increasing student behavioral issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Colorado lawmakers to first pass what’s called the “I Matter” program in 2021. It offers students six free therapy sessions.
HB 23-1003 is said to build upon the “I Matter” program.
Board member Christina Maness questioned whether the proposal for the district to oppose the bill was more about making a statement than anything else.
“I guess I’m wondering if there’s a bigger agenda for this resolution,” Maness said, expressing that she didn’t want to vote on the proposal just yet. “And that’s what’s making me feel uncomfortable.”
May’s proposal then ignited discussion about Garfield Re-2’s current tools used internally for mitigating student mental health issues.
Superintendent Heather Grumley said the district — for the past two years — has opted out of implementing what’s called the Healthy Kids Survey. Conducted by researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health and University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, it uses data gathered from districts to better support the well-being of students.
Instead, threat and suicidal risk assessments are really the only tools Garfield Re-2 has to intervene on student mental health issues, Grumley confirmed.
“If we believe that there is a child at risk and it’s a safety issue, then we are absolutely within our purview to utilize that tool,” she said.
Though a formal vote on opposition to HB 23-1003 was slated as an action item on last week’s school board agenda, the board decided it would instead further address the bill through a future workshop, which will include insight from the district’s mental health professionals. The district is also currently revising its policies on mental health to align with state law, the district said.
“We need a tool to take a look at the mental health of our students,” board member Britton Fletchall said.
Post Independent Assistant Editor and lead western Garfield County reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at email@example.com or 612-423-5273.
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