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Coming to a Classroom Near You - Child Mental Health Legislation

June 26, 2002

"Mental and emotional disorders were added to IDEA in 1991. Since that time, the rates of diagnosis and drugging of school-aged children has increased dramatically."

"...the rate [in Minnesota] of emotionally and behaviorally disturbed (EBD) children has increased 136%, and 'other health impairment,' which includes ADD, has gone up 930%. The EBD category is used especially frequently to label minority children. Minnesota is usually number one or two in the nation for use of that label on African and Native American students."

Coming to a Classroom Near You - Child Mental Health Legislation
Karen R. Effrem, M.D.
ICSPP Advisory Board
Maple River Education Coalition Board of Directors
National Physician's Center for Family Resources Executive Board

REAUTHORIZATION OF INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (IDEA)

Background - This "special education" legislation was passed in 1975 to allow all children with disabilities access to public education. Congress promised to pay forty percent of the expenses to allow that access, but has never paid more than about seventeen percent. This has resulted in a huge un-funded mandate for the states.

IDEA started with payments to schools for children with physical disabilities, such as blindness, cerebral palsy, and orthopedic problems. In 1991, the criteria were changed to include children with mental and emotional disorders. The definition of a child with a disability in the law, particularly regarding mental and emotional problems is terribly vague: "a child with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (hereinafter referred to as 'emotional disturbance'), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments or specific learning disabilities;…"

Attention Deficit Disorder, the most common mental disorder in children, is in the "other health impairment" category.

The definition is even more vague for young children aged 3 to 9 years old, because "at the discretion of the state and the local educational agency," a child may be included that is: "…experiencing developmental delays, as defined by the state and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in one or more of the following areas: physical development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development;…" (Emphasis added.)

The Problems -

1) Because states have a strong desire to recoup any fraction of the onerous tax burden sent to Washington, letting them decide when a child is developmentally delayed or has a mental/emotional disorder is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. The states and school districts have a large incentive to label children with one or more disabilities. The more disability labels a child receives, the greater the likelihood he will end up on psychotropic drugs. It is very difficult for parents to fight the labels when told by the 'experts' that their children are having problems in school, especially because there is such a broad range of interpretation of normal development and the diagnosis of mental and emotional disorders.

2) Another very important contributor to the problems in special education and the rapid rise in the number of children labeled and drugged is the so called 'education reform' mandates by the federal government. Since the Goals 2000 Educate America Act and the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, states wishing to receive federal education funds have been required to implement a set of uniform curricular standards and aligned assessments that have very little to do with academics and much to do with minimum competencies, attitudes, values, beliefs and entry level job skills. The curriculum has become so psychologized that, those who do not succeed in or those who do not comply with the new system are much more likely to be deemed needing special education services for mental and emotional disorders or "academic" remediation. (HR1 & S1 cement curriculum, tests, and control of education at federal level.)

The Cornell Review and Fox News documented in January of this year a stunning example of grading based on attitudes, which could easily lead to labeling for special education: "School officials in Ithaca, N.Y., are requiring that first- and second-graders there be graded on their tolerance, reports the Cornell Review. The kids will get grades based on how well they 'respect others of varying cultures, genders, experiences, and abilities.' The grade will appear on report cards under the heading 'Lifelong Learning Skills.' It appears well before social studies, science, reading, or writing." Lifelong Learning is part of the School to Work program, which also passed in 1994. STW tracks children into jobs chosen by big business and the government. Success in this system depends not on what one knows, but rather what one thinks and believes.

3) Since mental and emotional disorders were added to IDEA in 1991, the rates of diagnosis and drugging of school-aged children has increased dramatically. Using Minnesota as an example, the rate of emotionally and behaviorally disturbed (EBD) children has increased 136%, and other health impairment, which includes ADD, has gone up 930%. The EBD category is used especially frequently to label minority children. Minnesota is usually number one or two in the nation for use of that label on African and Native American students.

Data on "'drug mentions' that occur during a hospital or office visit when a doctor provides or prescribes a medication, or orders it refilled" was analyzed by the National Center for Health Statistics for a Sacramento Bee story published on June 23, 2002. (See Pills or Patience? Sacramento Bee, 6/23/02).

According to that data, stimulants such as Ritalin were mentioned 5.3 million times in the year 2000, which was nearly twice as often as they were mentioned in 1995-1996. Antidepressant mentions doubled in that same period, after already increasing four fold from 1990 to 1995.

If IDEA is fully funded, the already frightening level of child psychiatric labeling and drugging will increase exponentially.

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