Monday, March 12, 2007

Utah Bans Teachers From Recommending Psych Drugs

From the Salt Lake Tribune

By Nicole Stricker
and Glen Warchol

The fourth time was the charm for the so-called "Ritalin bill," signed into law Friday by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

The new law bars schools from forcing parents to put their kids on psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin. The law is the first of its kind in the nation, said Madeline Kriescher, a health policy associate at the National Conference for State Legislatures.

"Utah is pretty much on the forefront of doing that sort of thing," she said. "But New York has a bill right now that's similar in language."

Huntsman had vetoed similar legislation in 2005 and the 2002 and 2006 versions never made it to the governor's desk. This year's measure was virtually identical to the 2006 version, which had added language to clarify topics teachers may discuss with parents, and eliminated phrases banning school personnel from recommending psychological evaluations.

The Utah Board of Education opposed the legislation and urged Huntsman to veto the bill. Members said the board already has a rule prohibiting teachers from pushing medications and worry that replicating it with a law singling out psychiatric drugs would chill communication between teachers and parents.

It was those concerns that drove Huntsman's 2005 veto.

"This is a great bill. There are way too many kids on psychotropic drugs," said the Senate sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan.

The reason for the bill's success this year is simple, Buttars said. "The governor told us the problems he had with the bill and we corrected them and he signed it."

More than 100 lines of text in the new law outline what teachers may and may not say to parents regarding children's behavior and possible psychiatric solutions. It says school personnel can't keep kids out of school or report parents for child abuse simply because parents refuse psychotropic medications.

No teacher who reads the law, Buttars maintains, would fear repercussions from discussing a student's needs with parents. Buttars said the law allows teachers to recommend a professional evaluation for a child, but not medication. "They can't say, 'We think he should be on Ritalin.' ”

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