From the road-to-Hell-has-been-traveled-too-frequently dept.
Carrie Seidman has a commentary on Florida law that all parents of Florida students should read, and parents in other states should take note of in case the same provision is proposed in their states. Seidman writes, in part:
Buried amid the school security measures swiftly passed by the Florida Legislature in the wake of the shootings last February at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland is a mostly overlooked provision that requires parents or guardians registering a child for public school to disclose any mental health information in the prospective student’s past.
Sounds good, right? Having school officials made aware of a child dealing with mental health challenges means that the student and family can be connected to all available services, and school staff will be on alert to provide additional support. Who could argue with that?
As always, the devil lies in the details, which include everything from whether the person doing the registering will feel comfortable disclosing the information to how that sensitive information will be managed and shared. Those are questions that every school district in Florida is now grappling with.
Read more on Herald-Tribune. Seidman provides useful examples of how different districts are attempting to translate the requirement and so some are asking for very very detailed information, while others ask for less.
But should they be asking at all? Well, the law says they should, but the executive director of NAMI, quoted in the story, really captures the concerns about this type of provision. So let me highlight a few questions:
- Should districts be collecting this information or do families have the right to withhold health information about their child if they are not seeking accommodations for it or special services for it by the school district? Under the new Florida provisions, they seemingly no longer have the right to withhold health information of this kind. But where is the evidence to justify this mandated disclosure? Should there be a strict scrutiny standard? If not, what standard would be appropriate to justify a law that intrudes on privacy of sensitive information?
- If parents notify the school district, what responsibility under I.D.E.A. do school districts then incur to screen the student for the need for special education services?
- If parents notify the school district,what liability do school districts then incur if they do not provide mental health screening and services, and the student then acts out behaviorally?
In my experience, I know that many families — and many students — do NOT want the school district knowing about a diagnosis, if the diagnosed condition is stigmatizing. And many, if not most, psychiatric/psychological diagnoses are viewed that way by parents and students.
As always, in a rush to be reactive and kidding ourselves that we’re being proactive, the Florida legislature has enacted legislation that perhaps would best have not been enacted. And given how utterly horrible most school districts are at protecting student data, has the state of Florida just provided threat actors like TheDarkOverlord with just more low-hanging fruit to attack?
Update: Here’s a link to the bill with the requirement: http://www.fldoe.org/safe-schools/msdhs-psa.stml
More coverage can be found on Palm Beach Post.