Creator defends Wake schools mental health screening initiative

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The creator of a controversial behavior survey used in Wake County schools is defending his test and says it saves lives.

The test is called Behavior Intervention Monitoring Assessment System, or BIMAS for short.

The psychologist behind BIMAS said the mental health of kid should be screened just like vision, hearing, or speech, and it would offer educators a chance to step in to help.

"This has always been a stigmatized area," said Dr. James McDougal. "The current state of affairs is not acceptable where we respond to crisis, where we kick kids out of school."

The test is 34 questions. Some look at whether a student appeared depressed or is engaged in risk-taking behavior.

"We had three saves within a week and nine across the school years," Dr. James McDougal said at one school admitting to having suicidal thoughts or making attempts.

Many parents opt out of the test saying it's an invasion of privacy and a qualified professional should be administering it -- not teachers.

"I still feel good about withdrawing," said Green Hope High School parent Rachael Ayscue.

Eight Wake schools are participating in a pilot program and doing the screenings.

ABC11 has asked which ones. We are waiting for a complete list.

Ayscue said trained mental health professionals should be doing the screenings, and she's upset how the district rolled out the initiative.

"(They should have been) much more transparent. Let us know why are we taking it, what's going to be done with it and what's the purpose," said Ayscue.

The principal at Green Hope High, which is a participating school, did send out a letter that said, in part, "... information helps us understand the needs of all our students."

Ayscue said she is afraid the data will used to flag certain children and that it won't do much in terms of finding ways to improve safety.

"We're terrified every day. You send your kid to school and you hope they're safe. Would we all like to find an answer to that? Absolutely. Is a test going to be the easy answer to magically pull out of thin air? No, I don't think so," she said.

But McDougal defended his method.

"Screening is the answer because you can identify students at a time you can intervene," he said.
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