By Ryanne Wise
Schools may be given more authority in matters regarding the mental health of students under a bill presented to the House Education committee Tuesday.
House Bill 1204, authored by Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, would make it easier for school officials to obtain information on students with mental health issues.
Previously, schools would have to go through a long process to gain access to students' medical records.
"This bill does not really change existing law, but rather it helps ensure health care providers can provide mental health records to schools, to the family, if they have permission," Huston said. "It provides something that schools can point to when mental health providers are concerned about disclosing."
Huston said he believes schools should not have to go through so many steps to ensure they are fully aware of their students' mental health and have the information they need to prevent further problems down the road.
"The intent is that these students with these mental health issues can make the schools aware so the schools can make sure they don't harm themselves or harm others," he said.
Both committee members and lobbyists had concerns with some of the wording in the bill, which said a superintendent would be prohibited from "excusing or excluding a student who was found to be mentally or physically unfit for school attendance if a physician, psychologist or psychiatrist certifies that the student is fit for school attendance."
But Huston said that wasn't the case.
"The synopsis of this bill makes it sound like this bill narrows the school's power to exclude students, but in reality the text of the bill broadens the ability of the schools to exclude students," he said. "It eliminates the aspect of having the local district having to go to the state board to receive approval to exclude. This puts back the approval to exclude back at the local level where it belongs, where the kid is known."
John Barnes, director of legislative affairs for the Department of Education, testified in support of the bill, but said some of the language was "questionable."
He also said he was concerned about protecting the privacy of students if principals were given the ability to "use and distribute the information only to the extent necessary to deal with matters concerning the patient's mental health."
Huston asked to hold the vote on the bill until it could be amended to clear up the confusing language.
"I always think it's better to get a bill you like, that's good and as clean as it can be so there's no reason to have more second reading amendments than necessary," Huston said. "The committee's the place where you're supposed to get the work done. We'll get the amendment done and move on from there."
Huston said he will work with the DOE and lawyers to work out the details of the amendment before it is brought back to the Education Committee for a vote.
Ryanne Wise is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.