Garfield County Re-2 School Board members continue to question whether or not to opt out of a new state law offering mental health screenings to Colorado students grades six through 12.
Colorado House Bill 23-1003 offers mental health screenings administered by the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration to identify risks and provide resources and referrals related to student mental and emotional health needs.
Board President Tony May said he worries, however, that the data collected from a third-party through this law could possibly be exploited.
“With the state coming in, we have no idea what they’re going to ask,” May said in an interview. “No one knows. It’s a wildcard.”
If the district opts out, students will still be allowed to opt in to taking state mental health screenings.
Board member Dawn Everidge said the district needs to recognize that state mental health assessments can turn into permanent records taken by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“We want to protect our parents’ rights,” she said. “We want to protect our kids’ rights.”
Garfield Re-2 mental health services include the district’s Family Resource Center. There are also counselors stationed in each of the district’s 10 schools.
According to Family Resource Center Coordinator Amanda Vaughn, any time a student is making statements about harming themselves or others, they are referred to district staff certified in mental health first aid procedures, including certification in the Colorado School Safety Resource Center’s Suicide Risk Screen and Threat Screening.
“Staff walk through specific questions with the student or parents to identify if a student has a plan and intent to do harm,” Vaughn said in an interview. “If there is intent and plan of harm, the tool indicates that emergency mental health support needs to be contacted. This can include a call to 911 or to mental health crisis response.”
One major health care provider for Garfield Re-2 is the Aspen Hope Center. The institution offers emergency crisis response mechanisms whenever the most vulnerable students need additional support.
“If we are to ever call for emergency support, parents are immediately notified, asked to come to the school, and immediately supported as they walk through the process with their child,” Vaughn said. “We then walk through the next steps, side by side with students and parents, as recommended by the emergency responders as well as their aftercare plans and any safety plans that need to be put into place to ensure that the student will be safe at school.”
There are two Aspen Hope Center therapists who provide counseling and services to students and families within Re-2’s boundaries, Vaughn added, saying, “Once a student is referred, Aspen Hope ensures the student is able to get a same-week appointment.”
According to its numbers, Aspen Hope Center answered more crisis calls in 2021 (the most recent year data is available) than any other of its 12 years, noting a 64% increase in crisis assessments for adolescents 12-18 years old between 2019-2021.
Before 2020, Aspen Hope fielded less than 100 crisis calls for this demographic. By 2021, that number increased to nearly 150.
Unlike neighboring districts, however, Garfield Re-2 does not have full-time Aspen Hope therapists on staff, and the district confirmed it would need grant funding to do so.
Vaughn on Aug. 9 urged Garfield Re-2 Board to first wait to see how House Bill 23-1003 plays out first with other Colorado school districts before taking any action.
Vaughn also pointed out that the Family Resource Center’s One Door program received more than 2,800 individuals over the past school year. In addition to counseling services, the program also offers anything from food services, showers and laundry amenities.
“I don’t want to lose any lives. I don’t want to be the first person to say we lost resources and we lost lives of our students,” Vaughn said. “So, I urge you just to continue to pause.”
With no vote to opt out of state mental health screening just yet, the board discussed speaking with district parents via listening tours.