Bill expands family rights to behavioral health services

Bill expands family rights to behavioral health services

(La.) A bill that would require schools to allow private behavioral health providers to treat a student at school during school hours is moving to the governor’s desk after gaining Legislative approval last week–a move the bill’s author says will help to address overall mental health among children.

In the wake of yet another school shooting carried out by a student in Texas last week, the author of the bill–Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette–said that as lawmakers consider increased funding to harden school security, they should take a deeper look into how to best address the behavioral health of students.

“We’re sending a message to parents that we care about the behavioral health of their children,” Pierre said during a Senate health and welfare committee hearing earlier this month. “We’re spending a whole lot of money on resource officers, and I think we need to be looking closer at mental health, because I think that’s where a lot of the concerns are.”

As both the number of violent incidents and threats of violence in schools have increased, especially in recent months, so have the calls to reform policies on gun control, school safety and student mental health services. Throughout the country district and state policymakers have sought to arm teachers, hire school resource officers, install security cameras and metal detectors, and hire additional school counselors and psychologists.

In Louisiana, Pierre’s bill, HB 766, has received opposition from the state school boards association, which has expressed concern that allowing outside professionals in the schools will interfere with existing mental health and counseling services.

But Pierre and supporters of the bill have argued that it would actually benefit school psychologists who are already overburdened with administrative work and extremely large caseloads. A representative speaking to the Senate health and welfare committee on behalf of behavioral providers in the state told lawmakers that the bill doesn’t aim to get rid of school psychologists, but rather, provide a complimentary service to the children who need it most.

The bill specifically prevents public schools from prohibiting outside behavioral health experts from treating students during school hours and on school grounds if the parents ask to use them instead of relying solely on school counselors.

Behavioral health services would be provided when a psychologist determines after an evaluation that a child has a psychiatric disorder, and the behavior directly resulting from the diagnosed condition interferes with the child's ability to learn in a classroom.

If the evaluation indicates that the services are necessary during school hours to assist the student with behavioral health impairments that are interfering with the student's ability to thrive in the educational setting, parents can take the evaluation results to their child’s school and request a private specialist to treat their kid at school.

While the idea of permitting the use of private behavioral health specialists isn’t unprecedented, schools have traditionally been reluctant to allow such collaborative interventions because of liability, or because they may be viewed as responsible for the expense.

To limit the costs for schools and address the liability issue, the bill requires the cost of all behavioral health services provided to a student by the requested behavioral health specialist would be the sole responsibility of the child’s parent or legal guardian.

Additionally, a private behavioral health provider who agrees to work with a child in their school must complete a criminal background check conducted by the Louisiana State Police and pay all related costs to do so. The provider must also maintain general liability insurance coverage in an amount not less than $1,000,000 per occurrence and $1,000,000 per aggregate, and provide a certificate of insurance naming the public school as the certificate holder.

Such liability insurance is predicted to cost providers less than $1,000 annually.

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