Tennessee’s odious “Don’t Say Gay” bill has not yet advanced, but it might be getting another new provision to make it even worse. Its original intent — to ban teachers in grades K-8 from even mentioning homosexuality — was bad enough, and this year’s bill also includes a provision to out gay students to their parents. Now House sponsor Rep. John Ragan (R) is offering a new amendment that would completely bar school personnel from providing any kind of “mental health” guidance, according to WBIR:
A measure in the works in the Tennessee legislature would bar school personnel from advising students on “mental health” issues, ‘lifestyle’ choices or other conditions or activities outside career and educational counseling” unless they have been licensed as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. […]
“School counselors in general are licensed, hired and paid to be counseling on academic and career education,” said state Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge. “We do not pay them nor license them to counsel on anything else.” […]
Teachers, counselors and principals instead would be asked to give students a referral for psychiatric care if they bring up mental health or lifestyle issues. School districts would also have to train educators on how to handle such questions.
It’s troubling enough that LGBT students would not be able to ask any counselor about their issues — and would be told they need to see a therapy. But Ragan could not be more wrong; this amendment completely undermines the work many counselors do every day, including providing support for depression, suicidal thinking, eating disorders, problems at home, grief, and overall social development. Tennessee already requires that school counselors have completed a graduate degree in counseling, as opposed to just education. Ragan is trying to prevent them from doing the very job they are expected to do.
This is the significant overstep from the usual assumptions about “parents’ rights,” the line of reasoning that attempts to justify censorship in schools, as this bill does. The entire point of school counselors is to supplement what support students may or may not get at home. Ragan’s amendment is nothing short of a guarantee to make schools less safe and ensure young people have even less support for their academic success.