An increasing number of school boards, public officials and parents are challenging intrusive psychiatric programs and widespread drugging in schools, and urging a return to academic solutions as the first priority.
By Cory Brennan
obert Parks* is a bright, active boy with a mind and will of his own. But in his early school years, he had trouble adjusting to a classroom environment. From the day Robert started school in the San Fernando Valley, his parents received reports that their son was running around the classroom, not listening to the teacher and altercating with other students.
Within a few weeks, a school official called the Parks to attend an “Individualized Educational Program (IEP)” meeting about Robert with the school nurse, several mental health workers, the principal and teacher. As the parents soon learned, the IEP group had already decided that Robert needed psychiatric treatment. The Parks, not having experienced these same alleged behavior problems at home, disagreed.
The school continued to provide reports on Robert. The parents investigated, finding logical explanations for their son’s behavior. A boy he hit had a reputation as a bully. Robert got upset when his desk was moved, but no one had bothered to inform him they were going to move it, or why. Robert teased his younger sister. The Parks did not consider these actions signs of “mental illness,” but rather common childhood behavior they had handled at home with appropriate communication or discipline. To them, the school was looking for an easy way to control their son. School officials even suggested putting Robert into “special education” while admitting he was of at least normal intelligence and was not having problems with his schoolwork.
When the Parks family moved to a different district, Robert’s school records, including a psychological profile, followed him to his new school where officials were imbued with the idea the boy was mentally ill. Thus labeled, school officials began pressuring the Parks to put Robert on psychiatric drugs, while continuing to have psychological evaluations done on him, at times without the parents’ knowledge or consent.
“They assessed and reassessed him like some kind of lab rat. The psychological abuse inflicted on him is beyond belief,” Robert’s father told Freedom. “For years he was always anxious to go to school to learn and make new friends. Now it scares him. He was constantly followed with a pad and pen.”
When the school principal told the Parks he would call social services if they did not put Robert on a drug, they gave in and took their son to a psychiatrist. With no medical examination and after asking the boy several questions from a book, the psychiatrist, according to Robert’s father, told them their son was “hyper” and prescribed a stimulant drug frequently given for so-called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Once on the drug, Robert experienced drastic effects. “He lost one forth of his body weight in one month and his sleep patterns were disrupted,” his father said.
Now, bad behavior reports on Robert poured in. The psychiatrist’s solution was to increase the drug dosage in spite of the side effects. The Parks, alarmed at their son’s deteriorating state, chose instead to put a stop to the drugging.
The school’s response was to suspend Robert, and to give the parents their only options: continue the psychiatric “treatment” or take Robert to a special school located in another town altogether. The Parks decided to do neither and instead began to homeschool their son. He has been receiving an education ever since without incident, free of the psychological and psychiatric scrutiny, assessments and drugs that plagued his limited school years.
“The efforts of various psychologists and psychiatrists combined with the school to deprive my son of the education he deserves,” Robert’s father said. “They forced him out of school and spread vicious rumors around this small town in an effort to keep him out of school, church and other community functions.
“My son has hurt no one, caused no damage to anything and is generally a happy camper who reads two grade levels beyond his own,” he said. “I fear the next ‘diagnosis’ will be ‘acute depression.’ Nothing could be further from the truth — that is, until they get done with him.”
Meanwhile Robert does not have the right to be educated in public school unless his parents agree to allow the administration of powerful drugs — drugs which, by observation and experience, were harmful to their son. The Parks can’t help but wonder why the public schools are in the business of diagnosing children, or why school officials feel that drugs are the only way to control students.
An isolated instance? Unfortunately not. Approximately six million children in the United States are classified as “hyperactive”, “attention deficit” or having other behavioral or learning “illnesses” for which they are being drugged. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a watchdog organization founded by the Church of Scientology in 1969 to investigate and expose psychiatric abuse, has received thousands of reports of abuse and harm of children through the psychiatric system. Many of these children first found their way into the mental health system at their public school.
An increasing number of school boards and public officials across the United States are challenging the intrusive involvement of psychiatry in the schools, and urging a return to academic solutions as the first priority for school problems faced by youth.
Schools as Mental Health Centers
One question that looms in many school districts is what the parent’s role, versus the school’s role, should be in determining medical or mental health treatment for children. The question desperately calls for more public debate and research. Yet many public schools in California are on the fast track to act not only as partners with local mental health centers, but as mental health providers themselves by placing such centers directly on the school campus. Additionally, video tapes, assessment tests and brochures are sent to schools in increasing volume to “train” teachers and administrators how to “recognize mental illness” in their students.
“Incredibly, this trend over the past few decades to move schools out of the learning business into the mental health and behavior modification business has gained momentum in recent years,” said Cassandra Aeurbach, spokesperson for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights in Los Angeles. “Now the problem has reached a point that many people have woken up and want to try to undo the damage. Some progress is finally being made toward that end.”
One of the concerns involves several bills recently presented for consideration in the California legislature requesting hundreds of millions in funding for school mental health clinics, mental health training for teachers, and other related mental health services in the schools.
Yet according to allegations in a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the State of California last year, public schools in the state do not have the funding necessary to provide the “bare necessities” to a large number of poor and minority students. The lawsuit describes schools with classrooms where ceilings are falling and rats abound, where students have no textbooks and no usable bathrooms. To compound the state of affairs, a Rand study published in 2000 found that California students between 1990 and 1996 posted the lowest scores in the nation compared to their socioeconomic counterparts.
In Los Angeles County alone, however, at least six schools have mental health centers on campus and plans are in the works for more. Other public schools “partner” with local mental health centers. In some cases, this means that privately owned mental health centers send representatives to the school to actively solicit for prospective patients. These private mental health facilities are assured government funds to service children from a particular school district, creating a clear financial interest in getting as many children as possible referred to them.
At the root of this troubling trend is the premise for the “ADHD” diagnosis — one with no provable scientific foundation. Referrals of students to psychiatric treatment are based on a loose set of diagnostic criteria called fraudulent by a growing number of child experts.
Diagnoses of ADHD and other childhood mental health labels, including “math disorders” and the catch-all “conduct disorders,” continue to skyrocket with younger and younger children being drugged for “treatment.” In fact, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February of 2000 reported a 200 to 300 percent increase in antidepressants and stimulants given to children age 3 and under.
The ADHD diagnosis is under increasing scrutiny, particularly following a national conference in 1998 which resulted in the consensus that “ADHD” is bereft of any scientific evidence and not valid as a diagnosis. As stated in the Report of the National Institutes of Health’s Consensus Conference on ADHD, “We do not have an independent valid test for ADHD, and there are no data to indicate that ADHD is due to brain malfunction. Further research to establish the validity of the disorder continues to be a problem.”
Dr. William Carey, who addressed the consensus conference, stated, “What is now most often described as ADHD in the United States appears to be a set of normal behavioral variations....”
Nothing has evolved since to lend scientific credibility to “ADHD”, and despite the lack of evidence validating it — or other mental disorders diagnosed in children — schools have been inundated for years with information about how to “recognize ADHD” and are encouraged to refer children for treatment.
As a result of such propaganda, stimulant prescriptions for American children to “treat” ADHD have increased several hundred percent in the last decade. Now, concern about the fraudulent “ADHD” diagnoses and drugging is catching up — including studies that not only discredit any efficacy of stimulant drug “treatment” but report distressing facts about their physiological effects.
That evidence includes a report in the August 22–29, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association on research conducted by Nora Volkow, M.D. Researchers, according to Dr. Volkow, “were surprised as hell to find evidence that [Ritalin] is more potent than cocaine. We didn’t expect this.... The data clearly show that the notion that Ritalin is a weak stimulant is completely incorrect.” Researchers acknowledged that the long-term effects of chemical changes in the brain caused by methylphenidate (the chemical name of Ritalin) are unknown, although the drug has been used on children for several decades.
Indicators have existed for some time that stimulant use causes brain shrinkage, yet “Until now, possible effects of [stimulant treatment] on brain development... have not been investigated systematically” read a report in Doctors for Disaster Preparedness Newsletter of September 2001. A study released from the University of Buffalo in New York in November 2001 said research “...suggests that [Ritalin] has the potential for causing long-lasting changes in brain cell structure and function.”
An increasing number of school boards and public officials across
the United States are challenging the intrusive involvement of psychiatry in the schools, and urging a return to academic solutions as the first priority for school problems faced by youth.
Reports also exist of psychotic symptoms, heart failure and stroke related to stimulant use in children.
Dangers also include cancer. According to Samuel Epstein, M.D., emeritus professor of environmental medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health in Chicago, the American Society of Pediatrics “ignores clear evidence of Ritalin’s cancer risks of which parents, teachers and school nurses, besides most pediatricians and psychiatrists, still remain uninformed and unaware.” Dr. Epstein, according to an October 2001 report of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, is especially concerned because of the “escalating incidence of childhood cancer, by some 35% over the last few decades.”
Psychiatric drugs, regardless, are in increasing use on children. Many of the reasons for prescribing them — such as shyness, fidgeting, daydreaming, or adolescent discontent, were considered a part of the normal process of growing up in past generations, subject to discipline and communication. Yet parents find themselves under increasing pressure to medicate Johnny for problems ranging from difficulties with math to trouble with girls.
Part of the trend most troubling parents is that school teachers and administrators are making the diagnoses.
When Yolanda Guzman’s first grade teacher in Los Angeles told her parents she needed to be on Ritalin for behavior problems, the girl’s doctor disagreed. Due to the insistence of the teacher, the doctor relented and prescribed the drug for Yolanda, though refused to renew the prescription, saying the girl did not have ADHD. When the family moved to Rosamond, Yolanda’s mental health records followed her, and the Guzmans were sent to College Community Services where a social worker reportedly told them if they did not keep Yolanda on stimulants, all three of their children would be taken away from them. Fearing the threat, Mrs. Guzman took Yolanda to a doctor in Los Angeles, who refused to prescribe stimulants. When Yolanda had an asthma attack, another doctor told the Guzmans that their daughter could not be on stimulants as they would react badly with her asthma medication. Yet the Guzmans say the director of College Health continued to insist Yolanda be on a stimulant. The Guzmans continue their battle to keep their daughter off drugs.
Similar battles are being fought all across the nation.
When some of Danny Grant’s teachers at his Sacramento school were unhappy with his behavior and study habits, school officials said he had ADHD and pressured the parents to get him on a stimulant drug. Though they had reservations, the Grants dutifully took their son to a doctor who prescribed Ritalin. The doctor told them Danny would experience no bad reactions and the drug was not addictive. But Danny almost immediately had severe physical and emotional reactions, including vomiting, uncontrollable crying, and inability to eat or sleep. Alarmed, the parents took him off the drug, not telling the school so they would not be pressured to put him back on.
Michael and Jill Carroll of Albany, New York, told officials at their son’s school they were going to take their son off Ritalin because he was having side effects that concerned them, including eating only one meal per day and sleeping only a few hours per night — loss of appetite and insomnia being common side effects of stimulants. The school’s response was to report them to child protective services, which promptly placed them on a state-wide list of alleged child abusers. The Carrolls risked having their child taken away from them if they stopped the drug.
The examples go on and on — hundreds of similar cases have been reported to chapters of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights throughout the United States, as well as to child and family advocacy groups. According to the reports of parents and education workers, the instances of such pressure and abuse number at least in the tens of thousands.
The implications of schools and social services conspiring to force parents to drug a child or risk having that child be refused an education — or even taken away from them altogether — are alarming authorities nationwide.
And there are some encouraging signs that this alarm is turning into action. Since 1999, school boards and legislators in eight states have passed resolutions or laws demanding schools return to proven academic methods for dealing with learning problems. Connecticut, in a unanimous legislative vote in July 2001, was the first state to make it unlawful for any school teachers or counselors to recommend psychiatric drugs for any child.
Education officials, teachers, doctors and parents are also increasingly recognizing the wide range of other causes that can underlie behavior and learning problems for children. These causes include food allergies; insufficient or poor nutrition — such as consuming too much sugar or unnutritious fast foods; chemicals in the environment such as pesticides; or high levels of lead, mercury or other substances toxic to humans.
Many schools are showing dramatic results with the academic approach alone. One such school is Bennett-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood, where reading performance was raised from the 3rd to the 50th percentile in California. They have used phonics instruction and other proven educational methods to teach children, with the belief that no child, regardless of his circumstances or socioeconomic background, is impossible to teach. Though 78 percent of the students in the school were classified as low income, Bennett-Kew Elementary has been one of the highest performers in Los Angeles County for the past 20 years.
Some schools are doing something right.
A growing number of parents and educators are asking whether we shouldn’t stop the drugging, and instead find out what successful schools are doing — and implement their proven solutions across the boards.
* real name withheld at the request of parents for reasons of pending legal action