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On The Front Lines

‘School Safety’ Law Requiring Threat Assessments & Psychiatric Centers Could Override Parents’ Rights, Subject Children to Forced Medication

AUSTIN, Tx. — The Rutherford Institute is sounding the alarm over so-called “school safety” legislation passed by the Texas legislature that requires schools to form “threat assessment teams” to identify students who are deemed suicide risks and refer those students to mental health authorities.

In signing onto a letter by 130 organizations asking Governor Greg Abbott to veto Texas S.B. 11, H.B. 18 and H.B. 19, which require schools to form “threat assessment teams” and establish a state-wide network of child psychiatric centers that could unfairly label children as mentally ill, the Institute and its coalition partners warn that the laws could be used as a Trojan Horse to allow pharmaceutical companies to push anti-psychotic drugs on children and empower schools to override parental decisions regarding the counseling and treatment of their children on issues of suicide and mental health.

“Even the most well-intentioned government law or program can be—and has been—perverted, corrupted and used to advance illegitimate purposes once profit and power are added to the equation, which is the concern with these school safety laws,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “This program is part of a nationwide push to empower non-medically trained individuals to ‘identify,’ label and refer students for treatment who they believe may exhibit suicidal or mentally ill behavior. Worse, these threat assessments—no matter how inaccurate or subjective—could stigmatize a child for the rest of his or her life.”

In the wake of the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School that left10 people dead and 13 wounded, the Texas Legislature took up measures to improve school safety and attempt to prevent similar tragedies. In early 2019, bills were introduced that included provisions such as setting rules for school buildings to better assure security and safety for students, allowing the reallocation of instruction time for teacher training on school safety, increasing law enforcement presence nears schools, and mandating the adoption of emergency operation plans for schools. However, the bills also included provisions mandating the establishment of “threat assessment teams” in schools which would involve student counseling, assessing student mental health, and making referrals for mental health counseling or treatment. Schools would also be authorized to contract with outside mental health professionals and threat assessment teams would be charged with identifying students who are deemed suicide risks and referring those students to mental health authorities. The legislation also proposes formation of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, composed of the state’s university medical and health centers, with the purpose of establishing a network of child psychiatry access centers to consult with and provide advice to primary health care providers on behavioral health matters.

In a letter to Gov. Abbott warning that the legislation could serve as a gateway for dangerous knee-jerk responses to child behavioral issues, a coalition of concerned organizations and individuals, including The Rutherford Institute, noted that many of the medical and health centers that are part of the proposed consortium were sued by Texas for improperly pushing anti-psychotic drugs on children on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. The letter also challenges the wisdom and effectiveness of student threat assessments, which are historically unreliable in stopping school shootings and unfairly stigmatize students, particularly children of color and with special needs.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated.

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