The Alabama State Board of Education (BOE) has approved the implementation of an Alabama law that requires mental health coordinators in every school system in the state.

In May, the legislature passed House Bill 123 (HB123), which was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. The bill, sponsored by Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), permitted the state to have mental health counseling and services in every public school in Alabama.

State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) introduced a parent opt-in amendment, which allows parents to give permission before their child participates in any programs or sees a counselor. 

The BOE approved the legislation.

Dr. Nathaniel Birdsong, the president of the Alabama School Counselor Association, spoke in favor of the rule.  

Birdsong stated that the new code clarified a distinction between mental health services offered to students through licensed mental health coordinators and the school counseling and programs offered through various schools.

Marlo Young, the mental health coordinator for Escambia County, spoke in favor of the rule, claiming that mental health services significantly decrease bullying and peer pressure.

"The position of the mental health service coordinator has been a great addition to the local school system, and I'm grateful to have an opportunity to work in this capacity," Young said.

"[W]e work alongside our school counselors, and we support our students in various ways, such as character education, social and emotional learning, and that community liaison that connects students and parents to those tier-3 resources and services."

While no one spoke in opposition to the mental health services at the BOE meeting, some have expressed concern over the new law's opt-in option.

Concern with the bill has to do with longer-standing state law. 

Section 22-8-4 of Alabama's legal code allows someone 14 or older to make their own medical decisions in the state of Alabama. This means that children over 14 in Alabama schools can participate in mental health programs or visit a counselor without parental consent.

Givhan's opt-in amendment did not include an opt-out option, meaning that children over the age of 14 would automatically be signed up for mental health programs.

See also: 'Bad things happen behind closed doors all the time between kids and adults' – Concerned parents address school mental health counselors

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