Balancing Act: The Parent and Child’s Right to Self-Determination, and Public Education’s Charge to Leave No Child Behind — (SWSS 166 Social Policy)

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SWSS 166 Social Policy

Andrew Morton

March 1, 2005

Excerpt:  …a big question surrounds the prevalence of children being forced to take medication and being taken into custody if the parents refuse. At this time, there is no hard number to confirm how big the problem is in Vermont, but in other states like New York, documented cases of such situations point to the necessity of pro-active legislation. Several stories appear in the August 2003 issue of The New American that illustrates this issue. In 2000, Michael and Jill Carroll of Albany, New York took their child Kyle off of Ritalin because of negative side effects. An official at the school then made a call to social services.  When they found themselves in district court, the judge ruled that the family needed to keep Kyle on the medication, or the parents would be charged with child abuse.

A similar situation happened to Patricia Weathers of Millbrook, New York. She took her son, in third grade, off Ritalin, Dexstrostat, and Paxil. Her child’s principal said “…think of medicating this child or I will do everything in my power to transfer him into a special education program.” When she took her son off the meds, school officials called social services which threatened to take her child away. Her son Michael complained that the drugs made him feel bad, eventually resulting in hallucinations, violent behavior, and other abnormal behavior. The complaint filed by social services: “Michael’s behavior at school is bizarre: He hears voices, and appears delusional, he chews on his clothes and paper, he talks to himself and rambles when he talks.” An investigation concluded that the symptoms were because of the drug use, not for the lack of it (Griggs, 2003). There are many other stories like this in various states around the country, and sadly, a school social worker was often involved and made the demand for medication.

 

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Fight For Kids: Patricia Weather’s Testimony

Committee on House Government Reform

TESTIMONY BY PATRICIA WEATHERS, PRESIDENT, PARENTS FOR LABEL AND DRUG-FREE EDUCATION

September 26, 2002

My name is Patricia Weathers. I am a mother from New York State. I have considerable concern regarding the outcome of this hearing because my son, Michael, was one of the children profiled for ADHD by our school district. When Michael was in kindergarten, I began getting reports that he was having “behavioral problems.” What this meant is that Michael was talking out of turn, clowning around in class, and apparently not sitting still. The following year, while Michael was in first grade, his teacher told me that his “learning development” was not normal, and that he would not be able to learn unless he was put on “medication.” Near the end of first grade the school principal took me into her office and said that unless I agreed to put Michael on medication, she would find a way to transfer him to a Special Education Center. I felt intimidated, scared, and unsure of what to do as a result of the school’s coercive tactics. At no time was I offered any alternatives to my son’s needs such as tutoring, or standard medical testing. The school’s one and only solution was to have my child drugged.

At this point, his teacher filled out an ALTERS Profile for Boys, which is an ADHD checklist, and sent it to his pediatrician. This checklist, along with a 15 minute evaluation by the pediatrician led to my son being diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin. After a while my son started to exhibit serious side effects from the drug. He was not socializing, became withdrawn and began chewing on various objects. His eating and his sleeping were sporadic and of great concern to me. Instead of recognizing the side effects of the drug, the school psychologist claimed Michael now had either “bipolar disorder” or “social anxiety disorder” and needed to see a psychiatrist. She produced the name and number of the psychiatrist I was to call. The psychiatrist talked to my son and I for a short period, and again with the aid of school reports, diagnosed him with “Social Anxiety Disorder.” She handed me a prescription for an antidepressant, telling me it was a wonder drug for kids. Those were her exact words. There was no information about the serious side effects associated with this drug.

The drug cocktail that was to follow caused even more horrendous side effects, making his behavior more and more out of character. I could no longer recognize my own son. Fearing what these drugs had done to him, I stopped them. Through this whole ordeal the school psychologist’s favorite saying was that it was “trial and error”; if one drug didn’t work then try another.

Realizing that I was no longer willing to “fall in line” and give my child drugs, the school threw him out. For a final blow, they proceeded to call child protective services on my husband and me, charging us with medical neglect (a charge that was later ruled unfounded) for refusing to drug our child. On August 7th of this year, The New York Post featured my son’s story and the fact that I had decided to file a lawsuit against the school system on behalf of my son Michael’s ordeal. On Friday September 20th this lawsuit was officially filed in Federal Court. Within just a few days of the New York Post article being published, over 65 parents came forward to describe their own personal stories of coercion and intimidation used by school districts to strong arm them into drugging their children. Since then, many more have come forward.

Through my family’s experience I feel the issue of informed consent is crucial. As a parent, I was simply not provided with accurate and critical information regarding the issue of “ADHD.” I was never made aware of the controversy surrounding this “disorder,” whereby many medical professionals do not validate it as a true medical condition. I was never provided with the information that there is no independent, valid test for ADHD. I was never given any warnings about the documented side effects that could occur with the drugs used to “treat” it. I was never informed that there are studies showing the correlations between stimulant use and later drug use. As a final point, I was at no time made aware that this drug use could bar my child from future military service.

As a mother, I should have been given all of this information to make an informed decision on behalf of my child. After all, it is we who are ultimately responsible for the nurture, care and protection of our children. We are unable to fulfill that obligation and make sound educated decisions without all the facts. Accountability is what I am seeking. I would never have subjected my son to being “labeled” with a mental disorder if I had known that it was a subjective diagnosis. I would not have allowed my son to be administered drugs if I had been given full information about the documented side effects and risks.

It is for this reason that I am asking this committee to fully investigate these matters as they relate to the issue of informed consent, and to enact legal safeguards so that parents can fulfill their obligations to shield their children from any potential harm.