The Colorado Board of Education is discouraging teachers from recommending the use of prescription drugs for students, a move criticized by mental health experts.
The board this month voted 6 to 1 in favor of a proposal that encourages "school personnel to use proven academic and/or classroom management solutions to resolve behavior, attention and learning difficulties."
The resolution is believed to be unique in the United States.
"We cannot ban Ritalin or any other drugs," said board member Patti Johnson, who proposed the resolution. "Our intent is to give parents the authority with their medical doctor to make decisions and not be pressured by any school official to put their child on this drug."
The benefits of psychiatric drugs to school-age children have been fiercely debated among medical professionals, parents and educators. Parental concerns about such drugs were heightened because of the discovery that Columbine High School gunman Eric Harris was taking Luvox, an antidepressant, before the April 20 massacre in which 15 people died. There has been no indication the drug played a role.
Some board members referred to dangerous side effects of drugs that act on dopamine, a brain chemical that helps regulate thinking and is thought to calm hyperactivity by helping children's brains disregard distracting stimuli.
"There are documented incidences of highly negative consequences in which psychiatric prescription drugs have been utilized for what are essentially problems of discipline which may be related to lack of academic success," the resolution reads.
The Mental Health Association of Colorado issued a statement condemning the board's decision.
"We believe this resolution will prove detrimental to the children of Colorado and equally detrimental to how we in Colorado set health-care policy," the statement said. "Educators should feel able, even encouraged, to discuss all concerns that affect the classroom with parents.
"When such candid discussion is frowned upon, the children, families and schools all lose."
Mack Clark, deputy superintendent of the Boulder Valley School District, said psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin may be valuable in handling attention problems and hyperactivity in some children. But he said it is a private medical decision between families and their doctors.
"We're educators here; we're not medical personnel," he said. "We can only describe behaviors that impact the child's learning. It's a shame we've put ourselves in a policy conversation that tries to simplify a very complex set of issues."