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Requirement For Mental Health Disclosure In Schools Raises Concerns

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A requirement in the school safety bill passed after the Parkland shooting is raising privacy concerns.

The law requires new students who are initially registering in a district to disclose any referrals to mental health services.

Legislators added the line to an existing requirement that new students disclose whether they've ever been expelled or arrested.

Though schools control access to private student education records, asking about mental health referrals delves into the area of federal medical privacy laws known as HIPPA.

“We’re at the intersection between student education records and the privacy around those and medical records and the privacy laws around HIPPA,” said Alisa LaPolt, director of the Florida Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Who oversees the HIPPA laws in the school and do student education records also cover a mental health condition. And we don’t have answers to that at this point.”

LaPolt said her agency is getting calls and emails from parents who aren’t sure how to answer the question.

Many want to know what they have to report and what sanctions, if any, they face if they don’t report, LaPolt said.

“We've gotten some questions about what is a mental health referral because in the statute it says that mental health referrals need to be disclosed,” LaPolt said.

Because the law is so new, LaPolt said her agency is still looking for answers.  

The state says it will be up to individual school districts to implement the law.

“Decisions on how parents report their child’s mental health services are made at the local level,” Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Audrey Walden said in an email.

The state encourages districts to work with their school board attorneys, she said.

But with school less than a month away for some students there are districts still working out the details.