National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI Action Alert: Contact House Judiciary Committee Regarding The Juvenile Justice Bill
Senate Amendment Harmful To Idea Kids With Mental Illness Should Not Be Included In House Bill
When the Congress returns June 7 from its Memorial Day recess, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee will take up the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) amendment which the Senate attached to the Juvenile Justice bill. It is critical that the House version of the Juvenile Justice bill NOT include this Ashcroft-Frist amendment. Rep. Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House Judiciary has circulated a list of items suggested for inclusion in the bill the Committee will likely use for "mark-up".
This list includes the little understood Ashcroft-Frist amendment to IDEA. This provision undermines vital protections, including the very right to a free and appropriate public education, provided by the IDEA for children with serious brain disorders. It allows a school to cease all educational services to a student with a disability who carries to or possesses a gun or firearm in school or a school function.
Even if a local school district provides educational services to students who are suspended or expelled, it is not required to provide a free and appropriate public education to an expelled student with a disability, including a child with a severe brain disorder. The Ashcroft-Frist provision would effectively undo the carefully negotiated discipline provisions in the 1997 IDEA reauthorization. These required discipline for students with disabilities to include due process for first determining whether the behavior meriting discipline was a "manifestation" of the disability.
Please contact, and ask friends to contact, your member of the judiciary committee, as well as Chairman Hyde, and Ranking Member Conyers. (List of Committee Members appears below.) Tell them that the Ashcroft-Frist provision must NOT be included in the Committee's Juvenile Justice bill. All members of Congress can be reached through the Captiol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Email addresses and mail addresses can be obtained through the NAMI website at http://www.nami.org/policy.htm and click on "Write to Congress."
Each member must receive dozens of calls. Participation in town meetings on school violence, letters to newspapers and other community media strategies will be helpful too.
Prior to the vote adding the amendment to the Senate bill, Senators were bombarded with calls from school boards, school principals, and other school-based organizations. They did not hear in balanced fashion from the families and friends of IDEA children. With more advance notice, this imbalance can be redressed before the House acts. Please help.
The argument has been framed as a school safety issue. But the amendment will NOT enhance school safety. Any child who brings a weapon to school or to a school function can NOW be removed from school, and reported to the police. There is no barrier in current law or regulation.
Keeping kids with disabilities in services-even in an alternate setting-ENHANCES school safety. Every major law enforcement agency reports that expelling or suspending children without education services only increases juvenile crime. Drop out rates, incarceration rates and drug use rates also increase when children are expelled or suspended without education services. This amendment erodes protections for children with disabilities and should be removed from juvenile justice reform legislation.
The children that are targeted by this amendment are children with "severe emotional disturbance." This is the term IDEA uses to make children with severe mental illness eligible (even though NAMI has proposed alternate language for a decade). Nonetheless, these are the children for whom we advocate. So it is an issue of discrimination.
Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) successfully attached an amendment to the Juvenile Crime Bill that would not disrupt IDEA. Their amendment would instruct school personnel to provide appropriate interventions and services, including mental health interventions and services, to children removed from school for any act of violence, including carrying or possessing a firearm to or at school or school functions. The intent of the measure is to maximize the likelihood that children do not engage in such behaviors, or such behaviors do not reoccur. This Amendment also reaffirms that nothing prohibits a school from reporting a crime to appropriate authorities.
The full roster of the House Committee on the Judiciary: