Parents, Educators Fight Legal Drugs in Schools
by Cory Brennan
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.
Robert 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 in Southern California, 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 asked 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. Not having experienced these same alleged behavior problems with their son at home, they disagreed.
The school continued to issue reports on Robert. The parents investigated, finding logical explanations for their sons behavior. A boy he hit had a reputation as a bully. He got upset when his desk was moved without his consent. He teased his younger sister. The Parks did not consider their sons reactions signs of mental illness, but rather common childhood behavior they handled at home with 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, Roberts school records, including a psychological profile, followed him to his new school where officials were imbued with the idea the boy was mentally ill. School officials began pressuring the Parks to put their son on psychiatric drugs, while subjecting him to repeated psychological evaluations, at times without the parents knowledge.
They assessed and reassessed him like some kind of lab rat. The psychological abuse inflicted on him is beyond belief, Roberts 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 refused to 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 Roberts 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 psychiatrists solution was to increase the drug dosage in spite of the side effects. The Parks, alarmed at their sons deteriorating state, chose instead to put a stop to the drugging.
The schools 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 meddling 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, Roberts 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 truththat 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 drugsdrugs which, by observation and experience, were harmful to their son. The Parks cant 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 disorders 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 in our public schools.
An increasing number of school boards and public officials across the United States are challenging the intrusive involvement of psychiatry in the education system, 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 parents role, versus the schools 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 and across the nation are on the fast track to act not only as partners with local mental health centers, but as mental health providers by placing such centers 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.
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 has been repeatedly debunked, especially since a national experts conference in 1998 resulted in the consensus that ADHD is bereft of any scientific evidence and not a valid diagnosis. As stated in a Report to the National Institutes of Healths 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....
Diagnostic criteria for ADHD includes such symptoms as fidgeting, speaking out of turn, interrupting, not being able to lay quietly, and losing schoolwork or other items, with scientific qualifiers like often or frequently.
Nothing has evolved in more recent years to lend any scientific credibility to ADHD. Yet despite the lack of evidence validating itor other mental disorders diagnosed in childrenschools continue to be inundated 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 upincluding 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 didnt 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 drug has been used on children for several decades.
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.
Indicators have existed for some time that stimulant use causes brain shrinkage, yet Until now, possible effects on brain development... have not been investigated systematically read a report in Doctors for Disaster Prepardness Newsletter of September 2001.
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 Ritalins 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 symptoms for prescribing themwhich also include shyness, daydreaming, or adolescent discontentwere considered part of the normal process of growing up in past generations, subject to communication or discipline. Yet today parents find themselves under increasing pressure to medicate Johnny for problems ranging from difficulties with math to trouble with girls.
An aspect of the trend most troubling to parents is that school teachers and administrators are diagnosing their children.
When Yolanda Guzmans first grade teacher in Los Angeles told her parents she needed to be on Ritalin for behavior problems, the girls doctor disagreed. Due to the insistence of the teacher, the doctor relented and prescribed the drug, though refused to renew the prescription. When the family moved to Rosamond, Yolandas mental health records followed her. The Guzmans were sent to College Community Services where a social worker reportedly told them if they did not have 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. He refused to prescribe stimulants. 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 Grants 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 sons 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 nightloss of appetite and insomnia being common side effects of stimulants. The schools 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 onhundreds 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 educationor even taken away from them altogetherare alarming authorities nationwide.
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 nutritionsuch 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. At one such school, Bennett-Kew Elementary in Inglewood, California, 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 socio-economic background, is impossible to teach. Though 78 percent of the students in the school were classified as low income, Bennett-Kew Elementary became one of the highest performers in Los Angeles County through good teaching.
Some schools are doing something right.
A growing number of parents and educators are asking whether we shouldnt stop the drugging, and instead find out what successful schools are doingand implement their proven solutions across the boards.
* real name withheld at the request of parents for reasons of pending legal action