The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) is suing Angela Bolton-Smith trying to force autism testing on her son, Trent, who is 7 years old and a former student in the district. Trent has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia, so Bolton-Smith requested that DISD evaluate him for special education services.
DISD began the testing, but then decided they needed to conduct additional evaluations to determine if the boy has autism. Bolton-Smith, who is a special education teacher who has evaluated students with special needs in the district, declined the additional testing, setting off an escalating response from the district, culminating in a lawsuit against her.
In July 2019, when asked why she didn’t want Trent tested for autism, Bolton-Smith told Fox 4 News, “Because there was no supporting documentation, number one. There's no history … He's been with the same pediatrician, and the biggest thing, because I am an evaluator as well. I understand what autism is. I didn't see those characteristics in him.”1
Texas Education Agency Sided With Boy, Twice
After DISD refused to provide special education services to the student until autism testing was performed, Bolton-Smith appealed to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which sided with her and the student, stating DISD “did not ensure that it evaluated and determined the student’s eligibility for special education services,” and should have “completed the initial full and individual evaluation,” according to Fox 4 News.2
DISD, however, did not back down, instead requesting a special hearing for the decision to be reconsidered. The district cited federal regulations that parents “cannot choose individual tests” and said Bolton-Smith agreed to allow her son to be tested for “all areas of suspected disability.”3 An independent hearing officer heard the case, and sided with Bolton-Smith once again.4
Outrageously, rather than agreeing to provide special education instruction without autism testing, DISD took the highly unusual step of appealing in federal court, again pressing the issue that federal law requires the student to be tested for all suspected disabilities.
In a statement, DISD noted, “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates school districts to test in every area of suspected disability. Dallas ISD is seeking to comply with that federal law.”5
Bolton-Smith, however, told CBS News, “It’s almost like Dallas ISD wants to take the parent out of the picture — and they feel like they are the experts — and us like parents, moms and dads, that we won’t know what’s best for our children.”6
‘This Is a Travesty’
Nancy Rodriguez, who is running for DISD board trustee, is among those who have heavily criticized DISD’s lawsuit. In a Facebook post that was later deleted, Rodriguez called the situation a “travesty,” describing Bolton-Smith as a “good mom who just wants the best for her son.”7
Bolton-Smith, meanwhile, fears that her son could be misdiagnosed with autism and stigmatized. Further, according to Rodriguez, the district offers very little assistance to children with autism. Rodriguez stated:8
“He [Trent] qualifies for special ed services under an evaluation and diagnosis performed at Scottish Rite, but the District refuses to provide them unless his mother allows them to evaluate him for autism.
She's a diagnostician for the District and says she sees no autism symptoms in her son and doesn't understand why they want the evaluation, since they offer practically no services for autistic kids. She worries that he'll be stigmatized if the District saddles him with an incorrect autism diagnosis.
Ms. Bolton-Smith has been to two hearings before the TEA–and won both–but the District continues to persecute her and her son. She's spent over $90,000 on lawyers so far. It is beyond me how any of this is in the interest of anyone–not Ms. Bolton-Smith's son, not the other kids in the District, no-one, that is, but the lawyers. DISD's leadership has gone badly astray.”
Bolton-Smith’s attorney has also called the case extremely rare, saying she has only seen three others like it in the last three decades. DISD also refused mediation and Bolton-Smith is now countersuing them to recover legal fees.9 This is an extreme example of a school district attempting to override parental rights to medical testing for their children, and it’s unclear what the district’s motives truly are.
District leadership have stated that they are simply attempting to provide students with a “free appropriate public education,” but trying to force a student to be tested for autism — after his doctors have not made such a diagnosis or recommendation, and without the consent of his mother, who herself evaluates students for special needs within the district — reeks of dictatorship.
Push to Strip Parents of Parental Rights
While cases involving school districts overreaching their powers are still, fortunately, sporadic, there’s a growing push for health care providers in the U.S. and Canada to vaccinate minor children without their parents’ consent if they feel a child is “mature” enough to make his or her own health risk decisions. Timothy Caulfield, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Alberta, told the Calgary Herald:10
“From an ethical and legal perspective, if they are a competent teenager, then they are the ones you should be having the conversations with … I would say there is an obligation to revisit this topic [of vaccination] with a patient who has become competent.”
Calgary Herald continued:11
“The mature minor doctrine plays out on a case-by-case basis. So, a minor may be competent to make decisions about vaccines, but maybe not open-heart surgery.
Still, given vaccines are considered safe, and given that discussions around vaccinations would be relatively straightforward, ‘I think it's entirely possible a 13-, 14- or 15-year old would be competent on their own to consent' to the shots, Caulfield said.”
A Washington, D.C., lawmaker introduced a bill in 2019 to allow minor children of any age to get vaccines in the city without a parent's knowledge or consent after a doctor says a child is “mature” enough to make the decision.12 A similar bill introduced in 2020 in Virginia would also allow minors to consent to a number of medical services, including vaccines, birth control and more, without parental consent.
Part of the problem with such bills is that, if a child receives a vaccination, for instance, at school or elsewhere without a parent knowing, they will not be able to monitor for side effects or could end up repeating the procedure at a later date. Should a reaction occur, meanwhile, the parent will have no way of knowing about the medical procedure that could have caused it.
Hospitals Persecute Parents for Medical Choices
There are also reports of hospitals persecuting parents for exercising their right to choose medical procedures for their children, including the vitamin K injection.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all newborns receive a shot of vitamin K at birth, which is intended to help prevent a rare condition known as vitamin K deficiency bleeding.13 Babies have very little vitamin K when they’re born, which is necessary to help form clots and stop bleeding.
Giving a dose of vitamin K can help babies, most of whom are born with insufficient vitamin K levels, to avoid potentially life-threatening internal bleeding, including in the brain or intestines, but the vitamin K shot is not the only solution. Oral vitamin K can also be used, as can naturally increasing the infant’s levels via breastfeeding (which requires that the mother’s vitamin K levels be optimized).
Some parents, therefore, choose to refuse the vitamin K shot for their newborn, a medical decision that’s well within parents’ rights in most U.S. states, but not all hospitals act accordingly when parents make that choice.
The issue reached a breaking point in September 2019, when a class-action lawsuit was filed against Illinois hospitals, including Silver Cross, University of Chicago Medical Center and Christ Hospital, the AAP, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and pediatricians by Illinois families who had their babies taken from them for refusing the vitamin K injection.14
Recordings of a call between members of the Illinois Department of Health’s Perinatal Advisory Committee (PAC) have since been released, revealing that doctors were even plotting to take custody of newborns and administer vitamin K injections in violation of the parents’ rights.15
Mandatory Depression Screening for Students Vetoed
A bill that would require mandatory depression screening for public school students was also introduced in 2020, this time in New Jersey, but was vetoed by Governor Phil Murphy.
The bill would have applied to students in seventh through 12th grade. With their parents’ consent, the students would have filled out a computerized screening intended to identify signs of depression. Assemblyman Dr. Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, who proposed the bill, said in a news release, “This is a way to make sure that every kid gets screened, so that we can prevent future tragedies.”16
The bill raised serious controversy, however, in part because the confidentiality of the screenings was in question, as was the potential for false positives. Diagnosing depression is not exactly an exact science, nor something that’s easily quantifiable via a computerized screening.
Further, while the bill was introduced as a way to reduce the rising rates of teen suicide in the state, the first-line treatment for depression is typically antidepressant drugs, which have been shown to increase suicide risk in teens.17
Government May Store Your Child’s DNA
Another little-known fact that flies in the face of parental consent is what happens to the blood that’s taken from the heel prick given to virtually all newborn babies in the U.S. The purpose is to collect drops of blood to test for certain genetic, metabolic and congenital disorders, including phenylketonuria (PKU), cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and others.
Not only is this the only test babies receive that’s performed by the state department of health, but it’s also mandatory, except in some cases of religious exemption. Every year, nearly 4 million U.S. babies receive newborn screening, and more than 5,000 are identified as having one of the screenable conditions.18
In some states, however, the blood drops taken from the child are not simply disposed of after the test. Instead, they’re sent to storage facilities that, in some cases, keep them indefinitely, raising serious concerns about privacy, patients’ rights and the right of informed consent.
While it’s clear that large databases of newborn blood samples provide unprecedented research opportunities, there’s also the potential for such samples to be used in unforeseen ways that threaten privacy. At the very least, parents have the right to informed consent about how their child’s blood samples are used in the future, and the right to opt-out of such storage should also exist and be easily exercisable.
Further, in the case of accessing special education services for a child, parents should have the right to make decisions about which screenings to opt in and out of, without persecution. In Bolton-Smith’s case, she feels the district’s lawsuit is a form of retaliation from the district.
“It’s almost like because you filed a complaint we are going to retaliate so this whole situation feels like retaliation because I used my right to file a complaint with the state of Texas,” Bolton-Smith told Fox 4 News. “No parent should have to feel someone else gets to tell them how to raise their child. Or what’s best for that child.”19
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