• Thu. Feb 9th, 2023


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Opponents Call It the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill. Here’s What It Says.

Lines 67-78: In accordance with the rights of parents … adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being and the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student. The procedures must reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children by requiring school district personnel to encourage a student to discuss issues relating to his or her well-being with his or her parent or to facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent.

This parental-notification requirement appears to apply to any student, regardless of age or circumstances — the student could be seeking health services for gender issues, sexuality, depression, substance use, a parental divorce or any other challenge.

Still, this bill was written in large part because activists are worried about how schools respond to students who question their gender identity. They argue that schools should not affirm children who say they are transgender if it means contradicting their parents.

It is unclear how strictly schools would follow the directive to inform parents of every “change” in a student’s health services. For example, if a child casually reaches out to a counselor to discuss stress about grades, and in conversation also brings up another mental health concern, would parents be contacted?

A section of the bill allows school staff to skip informing parents if there is risk of “abuse, abandonment, or neglect.” Counselors often wrestle with how to balance students’ desire for confidentiality with the need to keep families informed about their children’s well-being. But they argue that a blanket requirement for parental disclosure in all but the most extreme circumstances could lead students to approach counselors less frequently, degrading relationships that can be some of the most trusting in students’ lives.

Lines 106-109; 114-118: At the beginning of the school year, each school district shall notify parents of each healthcare service offered at their student’s school and the option to withhold consent or decline any specific service. … Before administering a student well-being questionnaire or health screening form to a student in kindergarten through grade 3, the school district must provide the questionnaire or health screening form to the parent and obtain the permission of the parent.

This provision requires schools to create an opt-out procedure for mental and physical health care services, which could include individual counseling or support groups. It takes particular aim at the growing practice of using mental health or social-emotional screening questionnaires, which are intended to determine what students might need. They may ask students how often they experience emotions like worry or sadness, and to what extent they enjoy school or have trouble paying attention.

Some parents may opt out exactly because their child is dealing with a sensitive issue that produces shame or embarrassment, but educators say that may be the moment the child most needs support.