A statewide group claiming to bolster the rights of parents in areas of education and government has crossed a dangerous line in the organization’s political zeal to impose its will in the public arena, especially regarding mental health programs.
The Colorado Parental Advocacy Network is a locally-based group of political activists that has become increasingly involved in public policy and elections in the metroplex, particularly the Cherry Creek schools district. The group is similar to a national movement of activists calling themselves Moms for Liberty, which lobbies state and local governments in an effort to impose far-right, and often erroneous, changes in school policies, curricula and instruction.
Until now, that’s been the case for CPAN, whose members have appeared at Cherry Creek schools board meetings and made endorsements in the most-recent school board election.
The group has recently targeted mental health crisis programs.
“We’re going to be talking about the evidence of real harm to children across the state under the guise of mental health,” Lori Gimelshteyn, executive director of Colorado Parent Advocacy Network, told participants in a social-media broadcast rally earlier this month,” Sentinel reporter Kristin Oh reported last week.
The group appears to be part of a national trend of far-right activists focused primarily on efforts to prevent public schools from offering equity and information to LGTBQ+ children and their families, and in particular, transgender children.
CPAN members, mirroring national far-right extremists, have attempted to force the school district to ban books and instructional materials from school libraries and classrooms it deems offensive or inappropriate. Most of these efforts are focused on policies and materials providing equity and respect toward children who are transgender, concerned about gender or sexuality, or come from families with LTBGQ+ parents or other family members.
National groups have also pushed back against history curricula surrounding the creation of the United States and its historical role in slavery.
Like Moms for Liberty, the group mistakenly insists that Cherry Creek schools, and other schools, usurp the rights of parents by forcing political philosophies on children without parental knowledge or consent.
It’s a lie, one that CPAN and similar groups use propaganda and disinformation to purport and support.
While the group has, until now, been a distraction to the school district as it works to address a wide-range of serious and pervasive educational challenges, the group is poised to become a very real threat to public health.
The Sentinel last week reported on a social-media based CPAN rally of sorts where group officials and participants worked to create fear and distrust of mental-health crisis lines, as well as suicide-prevention hotlines.
The group’s chief complaint is that the crisis lines, by design, take calls from anyone, including teenagers — considering self-harm or suicide — without parental consent.
Programs the group has targeted include the Colorado Crisis Services hotline and recent efforts by Cherry Creek to bolster mental-health services for students.
The CPAN group members are especially critical of suicide-prevention crisis lines offering support and resources to students distressed about their gender identity or sexuality, and they want school districts and other state agencies to refuse services to minors.
The demand is nothing more than a fraudulent political encroachment on public health and education that endangers lives.
In context, credible public health and pediatric officials have long been sounding the alarm about an extraordinary number of children suffering from a variety of mental-health maladies and anxieties. Some of these issues have been the result of or exacerbated by the isolation and disruption from the pandemic. Other causes include social media and a vast range of societal pressures, creating unique problems for children and young adults.
Suicide and suicide-attempt rates have grown alarmingly, including across Colorado, according to a wide range of credible sources.
While more research certainly needs to be conducted on best practices for crisis intervention, and especially ensuring long-term benefits, there is no proof that crisis lines do anything other than save lives by offering provably effective resources to children, or anyone, considering suicide.
The crisis of pediatric mental illness and suicide is so pervasive and alarming that experts from Children’s Hospital Colorado and others have repeatedly worked to draw attention the growing quandary.
“Fully a third of Colorado high school students say they consistently feel sad and hopeless, a key warning sign, and 17% admitted considering suicide,” Children’s Hospital Colorado experts say in an online effort to save lives by helping parents understand the problem. “Seven percent actually made an attempt. The numbers for LGBTQ-identified youth are triple that. And very often, kids who are struggling don’t go to parents first.”
The non-scientific, alarmist and disinformation-ridden efforts by CPAN and others to undermine critical state, regional and national suicide-prevention efforts creates real danger for all of Colorado.
School and state officials should work to call out this group’s fraudulent claims and politicized goals and ensure the school district and the state continue to expand critical mental-health offerings to all who need them.
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, call the national suicide hotline at 988. The Colorado Crisis Hotline is also available by texting “talk” to 38255.