A Senate panel on Wednesday backed a proposal that would require parents to give written consent before minors can get mental-health services or be prescribed birth control at school, a move that Democrats argued will prevent students from seeking treatment.
The creation of the “Parents Bill of Rights” would allow parents to access and review all of their children’s school records. That is designed to ensure parents have the fundamental right to “direct the upbringing, education and care of their children.”
This proposal (SB 1726) would bring some changes to the way students can seek mental-health and reproductive-health services, including counseling and birth control prescriptions.
Sen. Joe Gruters, the sponsor of the bill, said the proposal comes after scenarios in which students have told guidance counselors that they were contemplating suicide, but parents were never told.
“This is to make sure we empower parents and that they are informed of issues going on with their child at school on a daily basis,” Gruters, R-Sarasota, said.
But as the Senate Education Committee approved the bill Wednesday, some Democrats raised concerns about the health-care provision in the bill, arguing that minors may stop independently seeking treatment if they know their parents will find out about it.
Sen. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, said she recognizes parents play an important role in their children’s education but said some aspects of the bill are “very unnecessary.”
“I have a lot of concerns about the bill. I think it could have a very detrimental effect on their medical care,” Berman said. “This bill could affect the ability for a minor to obtain some reproductive health care.”
When it comes to sex education, the bill would also give parents the options to pull their children from such courses if they provide written objections to participation.
Other concerns raised by Democrats were related to children who are in foster care or who want to seek help when they are being sexually abused by parents.
“I think we can all agree that even minors have a fundamental right to some privacy,” Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said.
Under the bill, a parent would be a person who has legal custody of a minor child. That could be a biological parent, an adoptive parent or a legal guardian.
The “Parents Bill of Rights” would have some exceptions. Children would be able to get medical treatment without parental consent if they need immediate assistance because of serious injuries or risk of dying.
School districts would be required to have plans in place to let parents know about their rights, which would include information about school choice and their rights to exempt children from immunization.
While most Republicans on the Senate panel supported the bill, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said he was concerned about a provision that would require superintendents within 10 days to provide information requested by parents. Simmons said it would be difficult for superintendents to comply with the request in that short time.
Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who is a former Leon County superintendent, said it would be hard for school districts to meet requirements in the bill.
“I want to get to the point where we are not setting up the school district up for failure, quite frankly,” Montford said.
–Ana Ceballos, News Service of Florida