Parent Alert: A Danger At School
As a parent of four kids, two of whom are in the public school system, I am always on alert for dangers to my children from a source many may not consider - the school system. There are direct threats, that are easy to see, and there are indirect threats, which are hidden but often do more damage in the long run. We as parents put our trust in the school system. We rely on it to protect our children, while educating them. The school system is likely unaware of many of the indirect dangers faced by children today due to poorly drafted or worded legislation, but it is the job of parents to police the schools and institutions that have access to our children.
There is a lurking danger to the consolidation of records our government is attempting to impose. When your health care records are tied to your educational records - which are tied to your employment records - which is tied to your financial records - you are in danger. The danger is that a data breach exposes everything about you in one step. Another danger is that your employer knows all your health records, or your school knows your financial records, or your bank knows your educational records - you get the idea. Anyone with access to part of this unified record may get access to all of it. If your child is counseled for behavior issues at age 10, will that stop them from getting a job at age 30? I don't know, but that should not be a situation they face. There are many reasons we keep our health, education, financial, and employment records private - and separate. The disclosure of such records should be only done by the person in the record, and only the part they wish to disclose. We have a right to our privacy - and that right is being eroded.
You may argue that HIPAA protects your child's privacy while in a school environment. That is what I believed, until I heard a presentation by ROPE - Restore Oklahoma Public Education. I have independently investigated what I heard, and I was shocked. Schools that receive funds from the US Department of Education - which means all public schools - are NOT subject to HIPAA. They are subject to FERPA. Read this paragraph, from a guide on HIPAA and FERPA by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):
V(1.) Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule apply to an elementary or secondary school?
Generally, no. In most cases, the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to an elementary or
secondary school because the school either: (1) is not a HIPAA covered entity or (2) is a HIPAA
covered entity but maintains health information only on students in records that are by definition
“education records” under FERPA and, therefore, is not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
OK - so FERPA protects them, right? After all FERPA requires the consent of the student for such records to be released, or the parent/guardian of the student - except for this long list (34 CFR 99.31). You could drive a truck through that long list of exceptions. The bottom line is that I don't want my children's medical records tied to their educational records. So, how do you prevent this from happening? I will give you two examples of how to opt out.
First, there are all sorts of dire warning that you must vaccinate your children for all sorts of things or they can't enroll in school. The letters scream that it is the law. And they are right, there is a law saying you must vaccinate, except they are wrong, there is an legal exception for medical, religious, or philosophical grounds. The government cannot force you to take a shot. Here is the Oklahoma Law covering that:
70 Okl. St. § 1210.192 (2007)
§ 1210.192. Exemptions
Any minor child, through the parent, guardian, or legal custodian of
the child, may submit to the health authority charged with the
enforcement of the immunization laws of this state:
1. A certificate of a licensed physician as defined in Section 725.2
of Title 59 of the Oklahoma Statutes, stating that the physical
condition of the child is such that immunization would endanger the life
or health of the child; or
2. A written statement by the parent, guardian or legal custodian of the
child objecting to immunization of the child; whereupon the child shall
be exempt from the immunization laws of this state.
This year, I will be submitting a written statement and citing this law, declining to disclose whether I have vaccinated my children or not. Whether you choose to vaccinate or not is a decision between you and your child's pediatrician. It is your right to exclude the school from that information in the State of Oklahoma.
Second, you should be aware that the schools perform psychological counseling. Since this is considered medical treatment (mental health), it falls under medical records. As such, the school is required - by law - to obtain parental consent to participate. My children will NOT be allowed to receive counseling at the schools, for any reason. Any counseling they receive will be done by a counselor of my family's choice and paid for privately, so there is no danger of such a record harming their future educational or employment prospects. It is the only way I know of to guard their privacy - which is my duty as a father.
Last year, my oldest daughter began middle school. The counselors went to each classroom, recruiting students for group counseling. My daughter joined up, thinking it would be fun. Not only did we not consent, we had a very long discussion about why we declined with the head of counseling for the school district (Deer Creek). After all of that, a month later we received a phone call from her math teacher, telling us she was falling behind. The reason given was she was missing a lot of class. This was news to us - it seems she was in counseling AGAINST OUR WISHES. A very angry phone call to the Vice Principal of Deer Creek Middle School rectified the situation. I should point out that my wife has a clinical license in counseling (LCSW) and is more educated and certified than any of the counselors at the school. IF our child needs counseling, WE will determine it and it will certainly NOT be group counseling at the school. They are lucky I didn't sue them - but I wonder if other parents have children in counseling and don't know it is happening? That is some serious liability for the school system, and I sincerely hope this example is an isolated incident.
Protect your children. Be aware of the danger to their privacy. Opt out of notifying the school about vaccinations. Decline treatment at the school, and use your family doctor or pediatrician. Educate yourself on your rights, and on the rights of your children. If they choose to allow their records to be combined, as an adult, that is their decision - but make sure they have the choice.
It is time the schools focused on education. The health care of our children - both mental and physical - is the right and responsibility of us as parents, not the state.