GSCA Position Statement: HB - 141

This position statement was developed in opposition to HB 141 which has been introduced during the 2023 legislative session.

The Georgia School Counselor Association supports school counselors in Georgia as they promote student success. School counselors support best practice in suicide prevention to reduce suicide risk in children and adolescents and are part of a collaborative team who respond when students are identified as at-risk for suicide. School counselors are aware of the many legal and ethical implications associated with students who are contemplating suicide and adhere to them in their practice. (ASCA 2020)

Ethically school counselors:
Provide culturally responsive counseling to students in a brief context and support students and families/guardians in obtaining outside services if students need long-term clinical/mental health counseling.

Recognize the level of suicide risk (e.g., low, medium, high) is difficult to accurately quantify. If required to use a risk assessment, it must be completed with the realization that it is an information-gathering tool and only one element in the risk-assessment process. When reporting risk-assessment results to parents/guardians, school counselors do not negate the risk of students' potential harm to self even if the assessment reveals a low risk, as students may minimize risk to avoid further scrutiny and/or parental/guardian notification. The purpose of reporting any risk-assessment results to parents/guardians is to underscore the need for parents/guardians to act, not to report a judgment of risk.

Adhere to the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment when using universal screeners, surveys or needs assessments by informing parents/guardians prior to their use in accordance with school district policies and local, state, and federal law. (ASCA 2022).

As such, school counselors have a full understanding of the seriousness of a student in crisis regarding suicide as well as the importance of specially trained professionals to handle a student in a suicide crisis. School counselors are trained to provide short-term counseling and crisis intervention focused on mental health or situational concerns such as grief or difficult transitions. School counselors also recognized the need to initiate referrals to school and community resources that treat mental health issues (suicidal ideation, violence, abuse, and depression) with the intent of removing barriers to learning and helping the student return to the classroom (ASCA 2020).  Mental health counselors and therapists are not available in all schools in Georgia to provide for in-school intensive mental health support around suicide. 

School counselors in Georgia have been aware of the increased mental health concerns with school aged students over several years and have recognized that this has been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic. Following their master’s degree or higher education and following district protocols and procedures to refer to community agencies when a student is suicidal, school counselors across Georgia have also recognized how overwhelmed and at capacity our community mental health agencies and hospitals are.

As the Georgia School Counselor Association places importance in supporting student in suicide crisis, we also see concerns with legislation and policies that mandate suicide screenings for students ages 8 to 18, as introduced by House Bill 141. Without the funding for personnel, training, and detailed procedures outlined, such legislation and policies can create several concerns for school districts, local schools, and school employees in Georgia. House Bill 141, while well intended to support our students’ mental health needs, creates a large liability issue for districts, schools, and employees because there is not enough funding for trained mental health counselors in every school. In addition, with community agencies and hospitals overwhelmed by suicide, often the onus of the issue, even when it is referred out to community agencies and hospitals is placed back on schools that again are not equipped to support the increased number of students in crisis that would come from such screenings.

Other considerations for House Bill 141 regarding required suicide screenings for students ages 8 to 18, include the confidentiality of screening results and the protection of pupils’ rights. When personal mental health information is collected on a large scale with a variety of protocols created around this collection based on district and local school determination, schools and school employees run the risk of creating more breaches of confidentiality for that student. In addition, all school employees, including school counselors, adhere to the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, which impacts screeners, surveys and their analysis in seven protected areas, one of which is mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family. House Bill 141 and similar legislation that does not outline language about specific procedures that follow the guidelines of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment are also concerning for the rights of our students in Georgia.

School counselors will continue to champion for their ethical obligation to address students in crisis around suicide and will collaborate with all stakeholders within the school and in the community. They will use their training and professional experience and current district procedures in providing ethically and legally supported brief counseling support, referring to community agencies and maintaining confidentiality when appropriate to support the mental health and crisis needs of Georgia students.