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March 28, 2007

MN House Democrats Spurn Parental Rights
Sen. Wergin and Rep. Gottwalt introduce amendments

     [] Sen. Wergin           []   Rep. Gottwalt

Most parents are unaware that, in Minnesota, preschool screening includes mental screening (also called socio-emotional or behavioral screening). Last year, EdWatch discovered that both the Departments of Health and Education are implementing universal preschool mental health screening, in spite of its legislative defeat in 2005 and in 2006.

EdWatch printed and distributed "Know Your Rights on Preschool Screening" cards to inform parents that they may refuse any part or all preschool screening, including subjective socio-emotional (mental health) screening and the states nosy questions about your family's life (MS 121A.17, Subd. 3e). Districts currently send out misleading notices referencing only part of the law, saying something like, "In Minnesota, all children are required to complete Early Childhood Screening before entering school."

Accurately screening infants and preschoolers for mental health is impossible. Universal preschool mental health screening is not based on objective medical tests, as advocates would have us believe. It assesses "behaviors" and leads to inaccurate and dangerous labeling of children for normal childhood behaviors. It increases already excessively high over-diagnosis and over-medication of children, especially of boys and minorities.

Dr. Karen Effrem of EdWatch testified last year in a Minnesota Senate committee that, "Government-sponsored and controlled universal mental health screening, no matter how sweetly wrapped in the fig leaf of parental consent, should never, ever be implemented. It is never, EVER, the proper role of government," she stated, "to set norms for, assess or intervene in the thoughts and emotions of free citizens, much less innocent, vulnerable, and still developing children. It is our thoughts and emotions that make each of us uniquely and individually human, and we use these thoughts and emotions to understand the world and maintain our inalienable right to liberty." [March 9, 2006, Senate Early Childhood Education Finance Division]

Last week, on Wednesday, March 21st, Sen. Betsy Wergin introduced an amendment to the Senate E-12 Education Finance omnibus bill which would at least require school districts to inform families that they may sign a statement to release their child from screening.  It is simply a matter of informing parents of what is already in law -- straightforward support of parental rights. The Wergin amendment passed in the Education Finance Committee on a unanimous voice vote.

However, on Monday, March 26th, when Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R) introduced the very same amendment to the House omnibus early childhood bill (HF 1056), his amendment was defeated on a 9 to 4 vote. (Rep. Gottwalt introduced this same language as a stand-alone bill, HF 2068, which did not receive a hearing). Those voting yes to inform parents of their legal right to refuse screening were Rob Eastlund (R), Pat Garofalo (R), Steve Gottwalt (R), and Lynn Wardlow (R). Those members who smugly and without comment voted to keep parents in the dark about their right to refuse this sometimes invasive screening were Nora Slawik (DFL), David Bly (DFL), Patti Fritz (DFL), Scott Kranz (DFL), Carolyn Laine (DFL), Erin Murphy (DFL), Sandra Peterson (DFL), John Ward (DFL), and Ryan Winkler (DFL).

According to a survey of members of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 9 out of 10 children who see a psychiatrist receive a prescription for psychoactive drugs. The screening instruments are based on highly subjective diagnostic criteria and are not at all like medical screening tests, such as for hearing or vision.

In fact, the technical data for the Ages and Stages questionnaire being used for screening admits that its overall positive predictive value is only 27%. That means that for every 27 children that are supposedly correctly identified by the admittedly subjective DSM or other impressionistic screening instruments, 73 are falsely told that something is wrong with them and referred for further evaluation. That is worse than a coin flip.

105 Peavey Rd, Suite 116, Chaska, MN 55318
952-361-4931 www.edwatch.org - edwatch@lakes.com

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