Gov. Hickenlooper signs mental health communication bill at Longmont’s Sunset Middle School
By Amy Bounds
Two years ago, the St. Vrain Valley School District brought its mental health services in-house after changes to HIPAA rules limited what healthcare professionals could share with the district about students.
But communication between private therapists and district employees remained limited to instances when there was an “imminent” threat. Those limits led the district to help craft and actively support a bill in the state Legislature designed to ease communication and boost school safety.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill on Wednesday at Longmont’s Sunset Middle School. He was joined by the bill sponsors, Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel, R-Parker. Sunset teachers and students also attended.
Hickenlooper said the change will help schools “intercept (students in crisis) before they can hurt themselves or somebody else.”
“We have to do everything we can to make sure you’re safe,” he added, addressing the students.
The bill, supporters said, appears to be unique in the country and allows intervention teams to work together to help the person in crisis and protect the school.
Foote noted that, after an incident of school violence, there’s always frustration that “someone had information to be able to stop it.”
Under the new law, mental health providers can provide information to schools if there’s an “articulable and significant threat” against a student or school. This is the same standard that’s in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which protects the privacy of student education records.
St. Vrain school board member Debbie Lammers, who testified in favor of the bill, said one of the advantages is that a team instead of a single person can make decisions about potential safety threats.
“It’s an opportunity for more than just one person to decide,” she said.
Nick Thompson, an intervention specialist at Olde Columbine High School who’s also a private therapist, switched over to St. Vrain two years ago from Boulder County’s Mental Health Partners.
He said he appreciates that the new law leaves the decision to report an issue to schools up to mental health providers and provides immunity from civil actions around those disclosures.
At Olde Columbine, he said, he’s comfortable sharing information because the school’s administration values mental health and wants to support students.
“It’s not about being punitive, but about support,” he said. “This allows for more communication. It keeps kids safe.”
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