Under the Dome

NC Senate committee backs restrictions on student health info

A Senate committee backed a bill Thursday expanding which students need to get health assessments while at the same time restricting the amount of information that could be shared about each child.

The Senate Education Committee endorsed an amended version of House Bill 13 that would require every child to get a medical screening before they first attend public school in North Carolina. Currently only children entering kindergarten must get the screening.

But the bill’s other main goal, according to sponsors, is to put limits on what health information can be put in student records and shared with other agencies. Groups worried about privacy issues have lobbied for the bill, saying it will rein in the collection and release of information on children and their families.

Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican and the bill’s primary sponsor, told the committee that the legislation reduces information on the health form that might be best left to parents and students.

The health assessment form that is filed before a child enters kindergarten contains information such as whether the child gets regular health care, if the child’s genitals are normal and if the parents are concerned about the child’s development and behavior. As part of the form, parents consent to allow their doctor and school personnel to discuss information on the form.

Parents also consent to allow the state Department of Health and Human Services “to collect and analyze information from this form to better understand health needs of children in NC.”

The wide-ranging amount of information collected has mobilized conservative groups to call for passage of House Bill 13.

“When properly understood, H.B. 13 is not such a bland endeavor,” Elliot Engstrom wrote Tuesday for the conservative Civitas Institute. “It is in fact a proposal to rein in a state bureaucracy that, on its own initiative, has launched a program to collect and store intimate data about children in public schools, all while requiring parents to waive their right to be involved in discussions about their child’s health.”

House Bill 13 lists what can be recorded on the health assessment transmittal form, limiting it to include things such as a list of medications, allergies, information on special diets and health-related recommendations to enhance student performance.

Additional amendments approved Thursday would require medical providers to get parental consent before information could be shared with the child’s school and would eliminate the requirement that the health form be automatically transmitted to DHHS. Upon request, school systems would provide “de-identified” information from the forms to DHHS.

The bill now goes to the full Senate. The bill already passed the House, which would have to decide whether to concur with the changes.