Tuesday, April 25, 2006

If you are in Florida, please considering sending a letter to your legislator.

National Home Education Legal Defense

P.O. Box 704

Southbury , CT 06488

Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Executive Director


(860) 354-3590 Fax: (860) 354-9360

Dear Florida State Representatives,

National Home Education Legal Defense, or NHELD as it is commonly known, is an organization dedicated to upholding the rights of parents concerning the education of their children. We have had the opportunity to work with parents, local Boards of Education, State Departments of Education, and legislators on a variety of issues, including special education within the public school system and the provision of medication to children within the public school system.

It has come to our attention that you are considering integrating the "Signs of Suicide" program as a pilot program into your school systems with Florida House Bill 999. We are respectfully requesting you to reject the implementation of such a program for the reasons outlined in this letter. While we are sure that you are honestly endeavoring to assist the children in your state, we believe that implementation of this program will not produce the results that you seek. It may in fact do more harm than good.

The Signs of Suicide program has not been proven to prevent suicide, but there are strong indications that this program is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Signs of Suicide is a program by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., from Boston, which receives millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies. Tax records show that their income from 2001-2004 included money from Solvay Pharmaceuticals: $27,500, Pfizer: $750,000, Abbott Laboratories: $35,000, Forest Labs: $153,000, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals: $100,000, and Eli Lilly: $2,157,925. NHELD believes that screening and education programs from these types of organizations have NO place in the public school system, because they are designed to create and deliver consumers to the pharmaceutical and psychiatric industry.

There have been thousands of articles written nationally about the problems that programs such as SOS have caused. Screening programs have spawned lawsuits from parents whose children were screened without their permission, as well as children who were mis-diagnosed with "mental illness". As a result, some of these children have been given powerful psychotropic medications. Some children have tried and succeeded in committing suicide because they were on these potent medications. Some have died from the side effects of these medications. This is absolutely tragic and needless. We are already seeing the studies and black box warnings regarding these drugs, some of which are being used after kids are "screened and identified" as having "mental health problems" or show signs of "suicide ideation".

We believe that the mental health of any child is the responsibility of that child’s parent. It is not the responsibility of the administrators of the school the child attends, nor is it the responsibility of the local Board of Education. In fact, legally speaking, the United States Supreme Court has delineated the responsibility of the school district when it comes to the health of the child, and the Court has stated that it is the constitutional right of the parent, not school officials, to make decisions concerning the health of the child.
"[o]ur constitutional system long ago rejected any notion that a child is "the mere creature of the State"… Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925). See also Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 213 (1972); Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 400 (1923)" Parham v. J.R. , 442 U.S. 584;602-606, 99 S. Ct. 2493; 61 L. Ed. 2d 101; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 130 (1979).

Because parents have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the care, custody and management of their children against the state’s unwarranted "usurpation, disregard, or disrespect", the Supreme Court has held that parents retain a substantial, if not the dominant, role in decisions affecting the child, including decisions affecting medical treatment. Tennenbaum v. Williams , 193 F. 3d 581, 594 (1999), Cf. Parham v. J.R. , 442 U.S. 584, 99 S. Ct. 2493, 61 L. Ed. 2d 101; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 130 (1979); Meyer v. Nebraska , 262 U.S. 390, 39, 67 L. Ed. 1042, 43 S. Ct. 625 (1923).

The Supreme Court explained,

" Simply because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child, or because it involves risks, does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state. The same characterizations can be made for a tonsillectomy, appendectomy, or other medical procedure… Parents can and must make those judgments …Neither state officials nor federal courts are equipped to review such parental decisions ." Parham v. J.R. , 442 U.S. 584;602-606, 99 S. Ct. 2493; 61 L. Ed. 2d 101; 1979 U.S. LEXIS 130 (1979).

The Court has held that the authority of school officials is not the same as that of the parent. New Jersey v. T.L.O ., 469 U.S. 325, 336-337, 83 L. Ed. 2d 720, 105 S. Ct. 733 (1985). Parents have the constitutional right and authority to make decisions regarding matters of a child’s health, including a child’s mental health. It is clear that public school administrators can act in place of a parent only in certain limited circumstances.

"Public school officials have the power to act in loco parentis only with regard to educational matters affecting the public school. " Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton , 515 U.S. 646, 656, 115 S. Ct. 2386, 132 L. Ed. 2d 564; 1995 U.S. LEXIS 4275(1995).

It seems to us that implementation of any aspect of the "Signs of Suicide" program, pilot or otherwise, oversteps the bounds of parental authority. We would hope that before you decide to implement any suicide prevention program and impart taxpayer funds toward it, that you seriously consider the constitutional implications of your actions. It must be completely spelled out in your legislation that parents should give full and active consent to any screening or education program and that opt out must be an available option. If no screening is to occur, then it needs to be spelled out completely in this legislation. This legislation must also state that any material handed out to families must have complete disclosure about pharmaceutical industry money being used to fund any and all Signs of Suicide programs.

You also need to know, that The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM),the American Psychiatric Association's diagnosis manual has recently come under strict scrutiny and criticism. We urge you to read articles which were recently printed in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, USA Today and many other publications, which demonstrate the pharmaceutical industry's ties and influence on this manual which in turn helps to bring customers to the pharmacy for their drugs. One such article can be found at http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2006-04-19-manuals-drugmakers_x.htm

There are a variety of other reasons why we urge you to reject implementation of this program as a pilot or as anything else, not the least of which is the considerable discrepancy within the mental health professions as to the precise definition of "mental illness", appropriate diagnostic means to determine whether a person suffers from such "mental illness", and appropriate and effective means to treat such "mental illness". Assuming for the sake of argument that a "screening" program or disseminated information about "mental illness" helps to identify students who suffer "mental illness" or "suicidal tendencies", what would the school officials recommend? Would the school officials only make "recommendations" or would those "recommendations" become "requirements"? If parents then reject the "recommendations" or "requirements", what penalties would the parents and their children incur? What if a child is incorrectly funneled into the pipeline of receiving treatment and drugs for an illness that they do not have? Will the school, or even you as legislators, be held responsible for the resulting destruction of this child's life?

What you implement now will have far greater implications in the future. Please reconsider and reject implementation of this bill, HB999, and any considered partnership with the Signs of Suicide program and others like it. Please work instead to strengthen the rights of parents to make decisions regarding education, screening or treatment of their children, whether it be for physical or mental health, and please make sure that any information given to parents about mental illness includes non-drug treatment as well as full disclosure of pharmaceutical industry involvement in the materials and programs being disseminated.

Yours truly,

(signed) Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson - Executive Director, NHELD

(signed) Judy Aron - Research Director, NHELD