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Parental-consent conflict

The debate over consent between high school students and their parents wasn’t settled Wednesday night, but an overflow crowd at Bear River High School ensured that both sides of the debate were well represented.

The Nevada Joint Union High School District’s policy allows students to leave campus for confidential medical appointments without a parent’s consent. The district has leaned on the California Education Code and Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s opinion affirming the right of a student to do so without the approval of a parent or guardian.

Lockyer stated students need not consent for treatment of care “related to the prevention or treatment of pregnancy,” as well as “treatment for communicable or infectious diseases, or to care related to the treatment of drug or alcohol-related problems.”

Superintendent Maggie Deetz said Lockyer’s opinion and the state education code amount to the law, a position disputed by dozens who attended Wednesday’s board meeting.

No revisions of the policy were made after more than an hour of debate between both sides. A decision to place the item on a future agenda would be made later, Board President Dan Miller said.

Opponents of the policy say that Lockyer’s opinion, issued in November, is simply that and not standing case law. Enacting the policy amounts to a veil of secrecy between parent and student, said parent Jean Gregory.

Physician Kevin Maxwell said keeping that code of secrecy could open the district to significant liability.

Parents supportive of a change enlisted the help of the Sacramento-based Capitol Resource Institute to conduct a poll to gauge support for such a change, and the nonprofit also asked District 1 Supervisor Sue Horne to record a message to parents urging them to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Wednesday night, CRI program director Karen England presented trustees with a letter written in 1987 by Assemblyman Eric Seastrand admonishing superintendents for misinterpreting a section of the California Education Code he wrote that districts have come to rely on.

The code says that districts may allow students to seek confidential medical services without consent of a parent.

“Please be careful in your wording of the notification to parents that you do not confuse the intent of (this legislation) and lead them to believe that (this legislation) mandates school districts to maintain this practice of dismissal without a parent’s consent,” Seastrand wrote.

Those supportive of the district’s policy arrived with signs reading “Privacy for Youth” and “CRI out of Nevada County.”

Parent Susan Rogers issued a challenge to the nonprofit should they successfully lobby for a change in the policy, as the group has done in Placer and Solano counties.

“To CRI and its supporters, I say: Stay out of Nevada County education and local politics. There are people here ready to chain themselves to fences if you try to push your outsider’s agenda here.”

In supporting the school’s policy, members of Sierra Care Physicians presented the board with position papers from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other physician groups that suggested maintaining the school policy contributes to lower birth rates among teens and increasing health access for students.

“As a group, we are unanimous in recommending that the current policies protecting confidentiality for students seeking health services be preserved,” the seven physicians wrote.

England said the group is simply interested in creating a parent-friendly policy that keeps parents or legal guardians abreast of a student’s whereabouts during the school day.

“We’re simply asking the school district not to be a co-conspirator with a student during the school day.”