Parental rights as they relate to North in proposed Bill

Maddie Ngo, News editor

It is no secret that North has been, and is expected to continue to be, affected by laws relating to “parental rights”, though another level of its extremity is presented by the freshly proposed H.R.5. Parental Bill of Rights Act.

This Act recently passed the U.S. House, having the potential to take counseling and privacy decisions away from school counselors, and instead place them in the hands of the government. The Act was introduced to the Senate Thursday, April 27, and is expected to be voted on promptly.

All teachers and staff at North are considered “mandated reporters”, meaning that if they have reason to believe that someone under the age of 18 may hurt themself, or someone else, they are obligated to report that to the caregiver of the child. 

“Currently, there are no rules that guarantee what a student says will remain private, however, there are a select number of rules that work the other way around, mandating that counselors inform parents of safety threats to their child,” said school counselor Matthew Ford.

Counselors have a system in place to approach these conversations with students.

“If student safety is under immediate threat, we are obligated to tell a primary caregiver, however, this is never behind a student’s back,” said Counseling Department Chair Beth Swederskas. “We approach the discussion in a collaborative and supportive way.”

If a mandated reporter believes that a child is suffering from abuse or neglect, they are also required to report such information to the Department of Children and Families.

Despite these limitations, counselors continue to try to maintain a reasonable level of confidentiality, according to Swederskas.

“There is a lot of gray area, between course changes and suicidal ideations, and different counselors have different comfort levels for what they choose to report back home, but I would say we all make responsible and informed decisions,” said Ford.

According to the Bill, parents would need to be immediately contacted if a student discusses certain subjects in meetings with their counselor, such as mental health concerns, bullying, possession of drugs, or having an eating disorder.

“This level of regulation could harm students and would compromise the trust and transparency of the student-counselor relationship,” added Swederskas “If we had to contact home every time a student told us they got drunk over the weekend their phones would be ringing off the hook.” 

Students would be more reluctant to get help if they know that what they confide in their counselor has a high likelihood of being passed on to their parents, according to freshman May Bunton.

“Many students will choose to struggle in silence rather than seeking treatment. The whole point of having school counselors is to give students someone to confide in that is unaffiliated with what happens at home,” said Bunton.