By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– A bill to put social workers in elementary schools sparked a heated debate at the state Capitol on Thursday. The measure was discussed on the state House floor.

Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, the bill’s sponsor, says the earlier kids get help the better chance of preventing problems like suicide.

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Her son tried to commit suicide at 9 years old.

“He could have gotten help in kindergarten or first grade and that would have changed the story,” said Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat representing Adams County.

Dafna Michaelson Jenet,
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Her bill sets up a pilot program to assign one social worker for every 250 kids in elementary schools that want to participate. Those social workers would collect data on the prevalence of depression and anxiety for example and make home visits when necessary.

“A call to the parents,

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‘Hey, can we come and visit and help you understand what’s going on with your kid in school? And do you have challenges we can help with? Do you have safety net insecurities in the home? Is there food insecurity? Is there job insecurity?’”

But Republicans, like Rep. Lori Saine, a Republican representing Firestone, say the bill replaces parents with government, “We had a red flag gun bill now we have a red flag kid bill. This is unbelievable.”

Rep.Tim Geitner also opposes the bill saying parents should have a say in whether their kindergartner sees a social worker at school.

“This bill specifically speaks to students in kindergarten through fifth grade so you’re looking at 5-6 year olds to 11 year old, somewhere in that range, and to think that a parent shouldn’t at least be informed and have the ability to opt out is egregious in my mind,” said Geitner, a Republican representing El Paso County.

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Democrats amended the bill to notify parents if their school is participating in the pilot. Republicans say schools have enough to do teaching reading, writing and math. But, Michaelson Jenet says kids can’t learn if they have social and emotional health issues.

The size of the pilot program will depend on funding. Lawmakers appropriated $2.5 million of marijuana tax dollars. Private donors have also expressed interest in the program.

Schools would apply to participate. Priority would be given to schools with a high number of kids in poverty and high rates of disciplinary or mental health issues. The bill received initial approval in the House and still needs to go through the Senate.

Shaun Boyd