A new Illinois law recommends Illinois schools implement yearly mental health screenings for students enrolled in K-12th grade.
Regan Deering, a Mt. Zion school board member and State House candidate, said the new mental health screenings are a government expansion program being phased in this fall.
“I have seen a list of various schools that are already opting in. We had a variety of schools opt-in to the comprehensive sex education standards and that was the last big conversation we had around surveys and curriculum that are being implemented in our public schools,” said Deering. “I have concerns about this partnership as far as who is administering these mental health surveys.”
The IL Youth Survey may be administered to middle and high school students in public and private schools. The survey asks questions about gender, drug use, suicide and family dynamics.
One question that will be asked of Illinois 8th graders: Is there an adult you know (other than your parent) you could talk to about important things in your life?
“Obviously the gold standard is a mental health professional and perhaps a professional evaluation. If we are pushing this survey in schools, what does the delivery look like? Who are the qualified individuals? It seems to me that this new recommended mental health survey will be administered by more informal staff members and health providers,” said Deering.
Deering said the Mt. Zion superintendent Travis Roundcount has not heard of the surveys and the administration does not intend to utilize the IL Youth Survey.
“I asked if they had heard of these surveys and if they were aware of the legislation that offers this screening,” said Deering. “The superintendent’s response was that ‘neither the junior high or high school administrators had heard of the survey yet and that they don’t intend to use the survey.’”
The state has partnered with the University of Illinois’ Center for Prevention Research and Development and the data can be accessed by school administration and the center. Deering said she is relieved the law only recommends these screenings rather than mandates them.
“A lot of parents are saying ‘Why are they all of a sudden making this big shift and worrying about our students’ feelings and mental health?’ when we [the parents] believe that is the right and responsibility of the family,” said Deering. “Every family situation is different and of course our staff and administration want well-rounded students. I do see how having a discussion about taking care of our kids is important. But this is a slippery slope and a lot of legislators are taking a stance on pushing these things through our public school buildings.”
Deering said she believes parents should be a big part of this process. If you do not want your child to complete the survey, parents must return a form with their signature to their child’s school. If the form is turned in, the Illinois Youth Survey coordinator at their child’s school will ensure that their child does not participate.
Deering said the manpower and the cost of administering this survey is being paid for by ESSER funds expiring in Sept. 2024
“There are a lot of COVID dollars and a lot of this money has been used for some of these programs, and it seems our state legislators are taking advantage of a hot topic in health and they are continuing to push money into these schools for these surveys and recommendations,” said Deering.
The law also says minors aged 12-17 have the right to assess and authorize the release of their mental health records. Parents have rights to the minor’s records only if the minor does not object or if the therapist feels compelling reasons to override the minor.
***Courtesy of the Illinois Radio Network***