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Lake Powell Chronicle
By Lawrence Baker
Apr 10th, 2013

The Columbia University TeenScreen suicide and mental health screening, recently approved for use in the middle school by the Page Unified School District governing board, has become the center of controversy after a parent and former board member raised several concerns.

The TeenScreen program, backed by Native Americans for Community Action, was approved last month by the board, and was scheduled to be implemented beginning April 8, until Robin Brough and other citizens challenged the need for such a service in the area and the validity of the program overall.

Among Brough’s list of grievances against the program are a lack of transparency and evidence of effectiveness as well as inadequate justification for the need of a program of this nature in the area. She also claims the program also has ties to “big pharmacy”.

Brough said when she first became aware of TeenScreen, “I was very suspicious when I was told about a phone message parents received stating that kids would get a $5 gift card if a permission slip for a survey was turned in. This is very misleading as the consent form is not a survey but a mental health screening program that has been discredited around the world.”

“What in the world is NACA doing with this defunct ‘program’? Who is bribing our kids with a $5 gift card?”

NACA representative Brandy Moran responded saying the program is not defunct, rather Columbia University elected to no longer fund the program past September of this year. She stated that due to the program’s success, it is very likely that John Hopkins University will pick up funding the program soon after.

She said the $5 gift card is not a bribe as Brough claims, but rather an incentive, because students get it for simply returning the consent form, signed or not.

Brough also questioned who was providing funding for the program and asked that the entire questionnaire be released along with proof to support claims of its success.

According to Moran, the program receives its funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Because this program is evidence-based, there is specific training needed to conduct TeenScreen. The Columbia Health Screen is not shared publicly because the program components need to be in place prior to screening. Therefore, only programs that complete the training and comply with program requirements are allowed to download and utilize the Columbia Health Screening Questionnaire,” Moran said.

In response to the call for evidence, Moran said, “Because of confidentiality, I will not be “proving” any claims of success. What I can say, is that we have identified youth who not only had thoughts of suicide, but have also had prior attempts.”

She also referred to the fact the program is an evidence based program listed on the National Best Practice Registry website.

“To become such, these programs are highly researched and evaluated over the course of several years,” she added.

In a letter to the PUSD board calling for an immediate stop to the program, Brough referred to the program as a highly questionable mental ‘experiment’, and said, the district has opened a Pandora’s Box of unintended future consequences for students.

“The public outcry against TeenScreen has been successful. This is one of the reasons why Columbia University pulled the funding plug,” she added.

“This is not an experimental program, TeenScreen has been proven an effective tool for the past 13 years. TeenScreen will be wrapping up through Columbia University in September of this year. This is due to Columbia University no long wishing to financially support the program, this program has not been discredited,” Moran responded.

Nationally, the program has garnered similar interest over the years with advocates on both sides of the aisle claiming they both have the best interest of students in mind.

Due to the concerns, the school board has postponed enacting the program until it revisits the issue at its April 9, board meeting, which will take place after the Chronicle goes to press.