Bill will study mental health screenings for K-12 students

Members of the High Point Central football team greet students arriving for the first day of school at Northwood Elementary School Monday, Aug. 27, 2018. (Laura Greene/The High Point Enterprise via AP)

RALEIGH — A flurry of school safety-related bills filed in recent weeks includes a study bill which will look at the possibility of implementing mental health screenings for all K-12 students in the state.

House Bill 75, titled Mental Health Screening Study, was filed by Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) in February. This study bill is in line with the recommendations produced by the House Select Committee on School Safety’s final report issued in late 2018. The bill directs the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Instruction to conduct a study to recommend a health screening process to identify school in children who are at risk of harming themselves or others.

According to Torbett, no cost estimates on implementation have been made yet.

“If the study recommends that a screen should be developed and used, any legislation implementing the screen would be accompanied by a fiscal note,” Torbett said in an email to North State Journal.

The bill includes a list of issues to be considered by DHHS, including a threshold question of whether the state should require such a mental health screen. The bill also directs DHSS to recommend which mental health professionals should conduct the mental health screen, which behaviors or diagnoses the screen should target along with the format of the screening process.

Two mental health screening tools mentioned in H.B. 75 are the Pearson BASC-2 Behavioral and Emotional Screening System, and the FastBridge Learning Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS).

According to the Pearson website, the Pearson BASC-2 is out of print and the third edition, BASC-3, is now the recommended product.

The two departments are instructed to return their findings no later than Feb. 15, 2020.

Other stakeholders involved will include the North Carolina Medical Board and the North Carolina Psychology Board. The bill does not mention parental input. The bill does instruct the two state agencies to consider whether parents should be permitted to opt out of the screen and whether the screening program should be uniform throughout the state.

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, federal level health officials have occasionally pushed for universal mental health screenings in schools, however, no state has ever implemented one.

The bill passed the House Health Committee last week which is co-chaired by the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Josh Dobson (R-McDowell). On Monday, the bill passed the and the House Rules Committee, which is chaired by bill co-sponsor Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett). The full state House of Representatives will consider the bill Wednesday.

About A.P. Dillon 12 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a freelance journalist located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_