SACRAMENTO – A 12-year-old girl is prohibited from bringing aspirin to California public schools without a note from her mother or father – but in many California districts she may sign herself out of classes, leave her junior-high campus without parental permission, secretly have an abortion and return to school before the end of the day – and her own family may be none the wiser.

Parents and educators across the state have been in heated debate over school policies allowing children to be excused during class time without parental notification for “confidential medical services” such as abortions, birth control, and drug and mental health services.

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California’s San Juan Unified School District sought to change its own policy from one that prohibits students from being absent without parental knowledge except during medical emergencies to guidelines that would allow a student to leave for a “confidential medical appointment.”


San Juan Unified School District proposed policy change

Brad Dacus, founder and president of Pacific Justice Institute, a legal nonprofit, addressed the board at a school-district meeting in Carmichael on Nov. 17 to discuss the policy, along with hundreds of concerned parents who flooded into the meeting and filled the district building lobby.

After much debate and input from the public, the San Juan Unified School District voted 3 to 2 against the policy change. Parents clapped and cheered when they heard the decision.

“We are pleased that the San Juan school board listened to the community and abandoned this disastrous proposal,” Dacus said in a statement. “This is a victory for everyone who believes in parental responsibility and local control of school decisions.”

They were debating changing the current policy to reflect school administrators’ interpretation of California Education Code 4601.1, which states:

Commencing in the fall of the 1986-87 academic year, the governing board of each school district shall, each academic year, notify pupils in grades 7 to 12, inclusive, and the parents or guardians of all pupils enrolled in the districts, that school authorities may excuse any pupil from the school for the purpose of obtaining confidential medical services without the consent of the pupil’s parent or guardian.

Pacific Justice Institute staff attorney Matt McReynolds told WND the statute is ambiguous and only says the districts may dismiss students, not that they are required to do so.

“If you use general principles of statutory construction, as we lawyers do in interpreting these things, ‘may’ is very different than ‘must,'” he said. “It doesn’t say they must dismiss them, which is how the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the National Youth Law Center interpret it. It is a district-by-district decision on whether they will tell parents.”

McReynolds said a district is not required to become an “accomplice” when children opt for these services without their parents’ knowledge.

“It doesn’t mean students have to be dismissed during the school day to go do it,” he said. “They’ve got afternoons and weekends if they’re bent on doing that. You don’t have to make the school a party to it.”

McReynolds questioned how children as young as 12, 13 or 14 would be transported to clinics for “confidential medical services” if they are unable to drive and choose not to inform their parents.

“They can’t drive themselves anywhere, so some adult or somebody with a driver’s license would have to get them to those so-called ‘confidential’ medical appointments that aren’t so ‘confidential’ after all when you really think about it,” he said. “You’re talking about an older boyfriend, a boyfriend’s parents, maybe even a school official? Somebody has to get them there when they’re that young.”

McReynolds argues that hiding medical issues from parents may endanger the health and wellbeing of a child.

“A parent who is 100 percent legally and morally responsible for taking care of their minor child may have no real ability to do so if they don’t know that their child just had a major medical procedure,” he said. “Or in the case of counseling, they may have no idea their child is dealing with substance abuse or suicidal thoughts or any number of other things.”

Asked whether a parent might successfully sue if any school district that releases a child for a “confidential medical appointment” and a child’s life is endangered, McReynolds replied, “I think they would. We have raised that possibility.”

But Rebecca Gudeman, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, told the Sacramento Bee, “The great majority of children will involve their parents in such issues – reproductive health and mental health. It’s the 25 percent we care about, in abusive households or in families that don’t believe in mental health care.”

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Raquel Simental said she did not agree with the district’s decision.

“It’s the law that they have access to these services,” she told KCRA-TV.

The Pacific Justice Institute has also had success battling similar policies that allowed students to sign out without parental knowledge in other districts, including Modesto, Fairfield-Suisun and San Diego. According to KCRA-TV, Sacramento, Natomas, Twin Rivers and Elk Grove school districts still have policies allowing children to leave campus for “confidential medical services” without parental consent. McReynolds said several California school districts still have similar policies.

He said no lawsuit had been filed with the San Juan Unified School District. The move toward a policy change was recently initiated by school administrators.

“Planned Parenthood and the ACLU tend to always threaten these school districts with lawsuits if they vote differently than those groups want them to vote,” he said. “They claim it would be illegal, but they’ve never actually filed a lawsuit when the school district adopts a parent-friendly policy.”

Should a school face a lawsuit for maintaining a policy that requires parental notification, McReynolds said Pacific Justice Institute has offered to “defend any school district that gets embroiled in an actual lawsuit.”

WND reported in 2004 when California Attorney General Bill Lockyer issued an opinion that said schools are required to enact confidentiality policies. But amid a grass-roots campaign organized by a traditional-family lobby group, Lockyer backed off his opinion.

McReynolds said many parents aren’t aware of guidelines at their childrens’ schools. But he said all parents should ask their own school administrators whether their children may be excused without consent, even families who live outside California.

“It’s really important for every parent, whether their kids are in public or private school, to find out what the school policies are,” he said. “You never know. See what kind of answers you get.”



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