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Concerns voiced over proposed policy for Nashua school psychologists

Union Leader Correspondent

January 04. 2018 8:46PM

NASHUA — School officials are reviewing a proposed policy that is raising concerns from administrators and psychologists within the school district.

A newly proposed policy for school psychologists would require that written consent from parents must be obtained in order for a student to be provided with psychological services — except in emergency situations; although this protocol is typically followed now, it is not set in stone.

“In my opinion, parents have a right to know if their student is in distress or not,” said school board member Howard Coffman.

During a recent school board policy committee meeting, Coffman said parental notification should be a required policy, not just something that is now referred to as a best practice.

“(Parents) feel disrespected that no notification was made to them to initiate the relationship, and I think that is what we want to be — we want to be respectful,” said Doris Hohensee, a school board member who drafted the proposed policy now being studied by the committee.

Notifying parents when psychological services are provided to students is common, according to Assistant Superintendent Donna Fitzpatrick. There may have been one instance when a parent was not notified, she acknowledged.

“It may have happened once, but I believe that the psychologists feel that they make every effort to work closely with parents because they recognize that it is the team that has the bigger impact on the child — I just want to clarify that,” said Fitzpatrick.

Hohensee said students who are already identified as needing services must have written consent from a parent under current guidelines. However, Hohensee is concerned about students who have not yet been identified and may be pulled out of a classroom for services without parental permission.

“My concern is they should be treated equitably … There is a liability factor. Not all homes are stable,” she said, stressing parents should be notified as a precaution.

She is proposing that if emergency services are provided to students without parental permission, that an emergency mental health treatment log be completed and that parents are then informed in a timely manner.

Fitzpatrick said she is opposed to the proposed policy, explaining school psychologists in the district follow best practices aligned with New Hampshire laws.

“We truly do feel that the ethical standards that our psychologists work under are the necessary criteria we need, not this policy in particular,” she added.

Marc Laquerre, chief school psychologist, wrote a recent letter to the policy committee expressing strong reservations about the proposal.

Many psychological services provided to students are prescribed in a student’s Individual Education Plan goals and objectives, which are agreed to by the parent, he explained.

“At the elementary level, it is quite rare that a school psychologist would provide ongoing psychological services to students who are not identified,” wrote Laquerre. “It happens somewhat more frequently at the middle and high school level, but even at those levels, it is a relatively rare occurrence.”

He went on to say that the proposed emergency mental health log may allow others to identify the student referenced, and therefore jeopardize the student’s privacy rights.

“We have to be very careful about this,” said board member William Moser. He said the district does not want to do anything that would put a student in harm’s way or create legal problems, adding parental notification may not be a wise idea if the parent could be part of the problem.

The committee will continue reviewing the proposed policy later this month.

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