MINUTES OF THE meeting
ASSEMBLY Committee on Education
March 12, 2001
The Committee on Educationwas called to order at 3:45 p.m., on Monday, March 12, 2001. Chairman Wendell Williams presided in Room 3143 of the Legislative Building, Carson City, Nevada. Exhibit A is the Agenda. Exhibit B is the Guest List. All exhibits are available and on file at the Research Library of the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
COMMITTEE MEMBERS PRESENT:
Mr. Wendell Williams, Chairman
Ms. Bonnie Parnell, Vice Chairman
Ms. Sharron Angle
Mrs. Barbara Cegavske
Mrs. Vonne Chowning
Mrs. Marcia de Braga
Mr. Don Gustavson
Mrs. Ellen Koivisto
Mr. Mark Manendo
Ms. Debbie Smith
Ms. Kathy Von Tobel
COMMITTEE MEMBERS ABSENT:
Mr. Tom Collins, excused
STAFF MEMBERS PRESENT:
Susan Scholley, Committee Policy Analyst
Mary Drake, Committee Secretary
Dotty Merrill, Student Testing and Assessment, Washoe County School District
Martha Tittle, representing the Clark County School District
Helen H. Glenn, representing the Nevada Federation of Republican Women
Janine Hansen, President, Nevada Eagle Forum
Lynn Chapman, with Families for Freedom
Frank Brusa, representing the Nevada Association of School Administrators
Lonnie Shields, representing the Washoe County Administrators Association
Retta Dermody, Information and Training Coordinator, Nevada Parents Encouraging Parents
Cathy Lewis, concerned citizen
Bobbie Gang, representing the Nevada Women’s Lobby
Al Bellister, representing the Nevada State Education Association
Barbara Myers, member of the Nevada State Board of Education
Jeannie Simons, concerned citizen
Debbie Cahill, representing the Nevada State Education Association
Steve Williams, School Planner and Governmental Affairs Representative, Washoe County School District
Dr. Keith Rheault, Deputy Superintendent, Nevada Department of Education
Susan Scholley, Committee Policy Analyst, introduced A.B. 213, originally requested by this committee in response to input from school districts and the Nevada Department of Education (NDOE). The bill amended Chapter 392 of the Nevada Revised Statutes to permit the board of trustees of a school district to allow exceptions, on a case by case basis, to the requirement that a student classified as a habitual discipline problem be prohibited from enrolling in alternative education programs.
Dotty Merrill, representing the Washoe County School District, stated the district testified in the interim in favor of this bill and she encouraged the committee’s support.
No others came forward to testify in support or opposition to the bill. Chairman Williams closed the hearing on A.B. 213.
Assemblywoman Angle, representing Assembly District 29, distributed background material and an amended version of the bill, which prohibited a school district employee or agent of the district from suggesting or requiring the use of psychotropic drugs (e.g., Ritalin) by some students (Exhibit C. Original is on file in the Research Library.). Ms. Angle brought the bill after hearing controversy regarding their use. Exhibit C contained a letter of testimony from Dr. Peter R. Breggin, various articles that cautioned against the use of such drugs, a copy of a class-action lawsuit against Ritalin, and pieces of legislation introduced in other states. A second handout (Exhibit D) was a description of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and its symptoms. Because so many of the symptoms could be seen in a number of people, caution should be used in diagnosing a child with the disorder and prescribing drugs. Ms. Angle urged the committee to consider the overall issue. A.B. 226 addressed the issue, had no fiscal impact, and was a guideline to educators.
Assemblywoman Koivisto asked if there was evidence that educators in Nevada were recommending to children that they needed these drugs. Ms. Angle believed others would answer that in their testimony. Assemblywoman Cegavske suggested, from her experience in the Clark County system, there had been teachers and other staff who had recommended such drugs. She felt each child needed a complete assessment of his condition before any type of drug was recommended. Her concern was that too many sought a “quick fix” without first trying behavior modification. Ms. Cegavske emphasized the first thing to do was to make sure the medical professionals were the ones who recommended a drug to help a child.
Chairman Williams asked Ms. Angle if this bill had been presented to parents. Ms. Angle replied affirmatively and stated she felt that would be heard in the testimony to come. Assemblywoman Smith inquired whether some districts already had regulations similar to this bill. Ms. Angle said that Washoe County, Carson City and possibly Clark County did. Chairman Williams wished to know what other counties had received complaints. Assemblywoman Angle believed this was a statewide situation that needed to be addressed, but Mr. Williams was concerned about “micro-managing” the districts, to which Ms. Angle responded that this was a reinforcement of policy and there should be no objection.
Assemblywoman Von Tobel questioned the content of page 2, lines 14 to 16. Ms. Angle assured Ms. Von Tobel that language had been dropped in the amended version (Exhibit C). Also, it was not the intent of A.B. 226 to disallow the storage and dispensing of the students’ prescription drugs from the school nurse’s office.
Dotty Merrill, Washoe County School District, appreciated the amended version as her board had previously expressed concern. Washoe County strongly supported this measure.
Martha Tittle, Clark County School District, confirmed the district had procedures that would address the issue put forth in the amended version of this bill.
Helen H. Glenn, Nevada Federation of Republican Women, thought the amended version was a good bill and sincerely requested passage of it.
Janine Hansen, Nevada Eagle Forum, supported this legislation. She briefly recounted the story of a 14-year old boy who died from prolonged use of Ritalin, and told of a University of California, Berkeley study which found that children on Ritalin were at increased risk of abusing other drugs. She cited a variety of situations in which the use of psychotropic drugs was connected to criminal activity. Her handouts (Exhibit E and Exhibit F) contained articles warning against Ritalin and other drugs used in treating Attention Deficit Disorder.
Lynn Chapman, Families for Freedom, read about a principal who was sent to jail for substituting sugar pills for a student’s Ritalin tablets, and other incidences in schools where the drugs were missing or stolen. She felt this was a problem A.B. 226 addressed. As a home school consultant, she had received many phone calls from parents who pulled their children from the schools because they were told to or forced to put them on Ritalin. One parent was told five times during an hour’s meeting with a school nurse and school counselor that she had to put her seven-year-old son on Ritalin. She requested the committee please vote “yes” on this bill.
Assemblywoman Parnell asked Ms. Chapman in what school district the incident took place. Ms. Chapman replied, “Washoe County.” Ms. Parnell then inquired if it had been since the school district had adopted their policy. Ms. Chapman claimed this happened in November of 2000. Ms. Parnell said this incident should be reported to the school district. She supported the belief that this was not the teacher’s place and parents needed to report to the district office such violations of the regulations.
Assemblywoman Von Tobel agreed, but pointed out there were always two sides to a story. As a teacher, she believed a child’s prescription was between the parent and the physician, and if a parent wished to discuss it with the student’s teacher, they could. However, parents should not be condemned for putting their children on a drug. She hoped teachers would not go so far as to recommend that students not take the drugs.
Frank Brusa, representing the Nevada Association of School Administrators, stated their support for the amended version of A.B. 226.
Lonnie Shields, representing the Washoe County Administrators Association, spoke in favor of the amended version of the bill. Their primary point, he stated, was that they did not wish to argue whether a child needed Ritalin — that should be left to a qualified physician — and the path to reach that decision was clearly defined. In Washoe County, they believed it was.
Retta Dermody, Information and Training Coordinator, Nevada Parents Encouraging Parents, testified on behalf of parents who supported A.B. 226. Parents had related to her they had been told by principals, teachers, school nurses, counselors and psychologists that their children should be put on medication. In addition, parents had told her their children did not need educational assessments for classroom supports if they were medicated. Many parents removed their children from public schools, home schooled their children or put them in private school to avoid medications forced on them by the schools.
Cathy Lewis, a concerned citizen, introduced her son, a legislative intern, and said, at age two and one half, in pre-school, it was suggested that he was hyperactive, that he should be tested and put on medication. His pediatrician confirmed he was merely a bright, exceptional child, not attention deficient. In a Montessori school, she was told again that he was ADHD and she would need to medicate him or find another school. Chris read at a very early age, and he was capable of working at a higher level than fellow kindergarten and first grade classmates. His needs were not met; educators tried to diagnose him with ADHD. Repeated visits to doctors and psychologists proved he was very intelligent. Chris was removed from the school system and was home-schooled.
Bobbie Gang, representing the Nevada Women’s Lobby, objected to A.B. 226, saying this issue should be handled at the local level.
Al Bellister, Nevada State Education Association, voiced two concerns with the bill as amended: it appeared to be unnecessary since the local districts regulated the problem, and it appeared to be more restrictive than the policies in place since it prohibited nurses and school psychologists from suggesting that a child should receive a therapy that may be appropriate for that child.
Assemblywoman de Braga asked if this policy was in place at all districts. Chairman Williams would obtain the information. Assemblywoman Cegavske asked Mr. Bellister if a school psychologist was able to prescribe medication. “No,” he said. The language of the bill stated they could not even “suggest.” He contended that by virtue of their training and experience, they might be qualified to make that suggestion, not the diagnosis nor the prescription or administration of a drug. Ms. Cegavske disagreed. In conversations she had had with school nurses and psychologists, they had said that suggesting medication was something they were unable to do. She had never heard them say they wanted to do so.
Barbara Myers, member of the Nevada State Board of Education, spoke as a special educator to address the amended version. Ms. Myers had concern for the wording in Section 1, subsection 2, because there was already a process in place to make recommendations for further testing of a child. There might be unhappy parents. Assemblywoman Angle said they included subsection 2 to instruct people to follow the law if they wanted to suggest evaluation. But Ms. Myers believed it unnecessary; the law was already in place. She felt it would be a better bill if subsection 2 were removed.
Assemblywoman Von Tobel offered that Section 1(a) should be amended in line 6 to say “should or should not.” Would the maker of the bill agree to that?
Jeannie Simons, a concerned citizen, had a son who, as an eight-year-old, took 60 mg of Ritalin per day. He developed side effects and she, a former nurse, discontinued giving it to him. He became very thin, withdrawn and aggressive. He began hurting his brother. The family spent thousands of dollars, Ms. Simons continued, on psychologists, psychiatrists and medical testing. She was very intimidated and gave the drug to her son. In January of 1989, the son developed atypical psychosis. He spent almost six weeks in a psychiatric hospital, taking strong drugs. The principal stated to her, through the doctor and the counselor, if she took her son off the drugs, she would be turned in for medical neglect. She asked the committee to support this bill, to address an issue that occurred everyday. Furthermore, she told of a recent situation in Carson City where a child was put on Zoloft, without any exams, and the child got worse. It was later determined that the child was diabetic and needed insulin, not Zoloft. The recommendation came from a principal in the Carson City school district. She urged the committee to take a vote, to support Nevada’s children and to say which profession was to recommend medication.
Assemblywoman Cegavske said she had just heard again that there were policies in place but there was no enforcement. What were the consequences if someone was caught making these recommendations? Chairman Williams replied the committee had reviewed bills they previously passed and found they were not enforced by local school boards. This was a problem. It appeared citizens had more leverage for enforcing at the local level than at the state level.
Assemblywoman Angle had addressed the issue of penalties with the bill drafters and was told that all state statutes were enforceable with a writ of mandamus. It was a misdemeanor charge. Chairman Williams suggested the other option was to refer the bill to the Assembly Committee on Judiciary.
Juanita Cox, lobbyist for People Organized for the Next Generation, distributed a handout (Exhibit G), in absentia, supporting A.B. 226.
Chairman Williams closed the hearing on A.B. 226.
Assembly Joint Resolution 1: Urges President and Congress of United States to increase federal funding for special education to level authorized by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (BDR R-924)
Assemblywoman Cegavske, representing Assembly District 5, introduced A.J.R. 1 for the purpose of urging Congress to increase the funding for special education to the level authorized in 1975, because of the large amount Nevada had needed to subsidize this mandated program. At this time, she said, funding was at 13 percent of the 40 percent that had originally been discussed in 1975. In 1999, Nevada spent $250 million to subsidize mandated special education programs, which were under-funded by the federal government.
Chairman Williams had left the room and passed the gavel to Vice Chairwoman Parnell who chaired the remainder of the meeting. She asked about the current status of the 40 percent funding. Ms. Cegavske replied she had heard for the year 2000 it was at 13 percent, and possibly going to 15 percent. The big push now was to obtain a 20 to 25 percent funding. A.J.R. 1 was a uniform resolution sent through all 50 states to emphasize to Congress that all the states needed funding.
Debbie Cahill, Nevada State Education Association (NSEA), reminded the committee that just two years ago Governor Guinn spoke to President Clinton about this issue at a National Governors’ Conference. The Governor felt it was an important subject and continued to work on it himself. She emphasized the importance of the funding and proclaimed NSEA’s support of the bill.
Martha Tittle, Clark County School District, expressed support for this resolution. In the Clark County School District, the funding levels between the federal government and the state did not meet all the needs of the special education students. It was very important, she stated, to receive greater funding from the federal level.
Steve Williams, Washoe County School District (WCSD), testified his district supplemented the special education funding available by about $15 million from its general fund each year. He felt A.J.R. 1 was an important message to send to Congress. The WCSD Board of Trustees appreciated the legislature for taking this step.
Dr. Keith Rheault, Deputy Superintendent, Nevada Department of Education (NDOE), added his support from the State Board of Education and the NDOE for full passage of A.J.R. 1.
As there were no others who wished to address A.J.R. 1, Vice Chairwoman Parnell closed the hearing. There was no additional business. The meeting adjourned at 5:10 p.m.
Linda Lee Nary,
Assemblyman Wendell Williams, Chairman