Oregon considers mandatory annual mental exam for all middle, high school students

Dec 17, 2018 by

Oregon lawmakers are considering legislation that would force all students in grades 6 through 12 in public or charter schools to undergo a mental health evaluation every year.

The legislation doesn’t include specifics on who would conduct the tests, how the information would be used, or who would pay for the service, the Statesman Journal reports.

The bill, Legislative Concept 2890, states only that the exams would involve “an evidence-based, accessible screening tool” to assess students’ mental health, as “evaluated by a qualified counselor or mental health professional.”

Parents could opt their children out of the evaluation with a special form submitted to their child’s school. Democrat Rep. Rob Nosse introduced the legislation on Wednesday in the Oregon House Interim Committee on Health Care, where it was adopted as a committee bill, according to the news site.

Data from the National Institute of Mental Health show mental issues like severe depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, anxiety and others are increasing in K-12 students, with a negative impact learning ability for about one in five youth nationally.

Mental Health America ranks Oregon the 44th out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for youth mental illness. For the state as a whole, there are more people with mental illness in Oregon than anywhere else in the U.S.

At Salem-Keizer Public Schools about one in every four of the district’s 42,000 students have mental health issues that are causing them issues at school, the Statesman Journal reports.

School psychologist Chris Moore told the news site educators need to know a student has issues, or experienced trauma, to intervene.

“The priority for a kid is to feel safe in school,” Moore said. “This is about the mental health of our country and whether people feel a sense of belonging to their community.”

Oregon currently has a shortage of child psychologists and school counselors, which means students are often left waiting for help. The proposal for annual mental exams comes amid a broader push in the legislature to address education and health care issues in the next session, which starts Jan. 22.

On Thursday, a legislative committee tasked with devising improvements to public schools over the summer unveiled a $3.5 billion wish list that focuses heavily on mental health. One proposal, to mandate every school employ at least one counselor for every 250 students, would cost $238 million, The Oregonian reports.

“Individual lawmakers on the committee expressed strong support for early childhood education, additional counselors and extra supports for high-need groups who have been ill served by Oregon schools, including Native American students and those learning English as a second language,” according to the news site.

The committee toured numerous schools over the summer and “several said that caused them to advocate for better equipping schools to diagnose and treat students’ mental health.”

“We heard it at every stop,” committee member, Democrat state Rep. Julie Fahey, said on Thursday. “We need to do something on mental health.”

The pressure to intervene, along with a shortage of trained professionals, begs the obvious questions: Who would be evaluating students’ mental health? And, what would they do with the information?

The answers, along with how lawmakers plan to pay for the proposals, remain unclear.

Republican state Rep. Greg Smith, committee co-vice chairman, likened the education wish list to catalogues Sears once sent to homes across America ahead of Christmas.

Smith said plans to buy everything on the list, like a kid drooling over the Sears catalogue dreaming of the big day, would be “very premature,” The Oregonian reports.

Source: Oregon considers mandatory annual mental exam for all middle, high school students | EAGnews.org

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