Right now, schools in Oregon that choose to screen students for depression aren’t required to provide parents with any particular notice.
A bill sponsored by state Rep. Sara Gelser, along with representatives Andy Olson, Sherrie Sprenger and Lew Frederick, would set some parameters on those screenings, including making sure that parents know they can opt out.
Gelser, D-Corvallis, said House Bill 3474 should make its way to the House floor for a vote next week and she’s expecting it to pass.
“I believe this gives more protections and more notice than what we currently have,” she said.
The bill is of special interest to the Lebanon Community School District, which just wrapped up a pilot program to screen seventh-graders for depression.
Lebanon resident Fred Yates spoke against the program April 4 at a meeting of the Lebanon School Board, sparking a discussion on whether the bill would require schools to screen students unless parents specifically opt out.
Gelser said Thursday that’s not the case. She said school districts already can choose to screen students either through a “passive” consent process — giving out the questionnaires to any student who didn’t turn in a form specifically opting out — or by first requiring a signed permission slip. Both options are still available to schools.
What the bill does, Gelser said, is specify that if a district does choose to do a screening, parents and legal guardians must receive a written, mailed notice of the screening at least two weeks beforehand and that they have the right to request in writing that their student not participate.
It also specifies that screening can be done only for a classroom or a specified grade, so as not to target a particular student.
Students also can choose to opt out, Gelser said, even if the parent has given permission for the screening. However, a student cannot choose to opt in if the parent has said no.
Gelser said her bill has been “really, really contentious,” which she said she finds surprising. If people are serious about destigmatizing mental health issues, she said, a screening for depression should be viewed as just as routine as the screenings given for vision and dental issues.
Dr. Caroline Fisher, head of child psychiatry for Samaritan Health and one of the partners in the Lebanon screening project, said she thinks the bill does a good job of clarifying parent rights.
“I think it will allay a lot of people’s fears and thereby allow schools to conduct screenings in better partnership with families,” she said. “I think it is an excellent bill and much needed — I fully support it.”