Tough call for board |

Tough call for board

A high school board meeting tonight will become the newest battleground in a statewide debate about whether students should be allowed to leave campus – without parental consent – for confidential medical appointments.

Several parents, organized in part by Nevada County Supervisor Sue Horne and the Sacramento-based Capitol Resource Institute, are asking the Nevada Joint Union High School District board to require pupils get parental approval for such appointments.

State law allows schools to release students for confidential medical appointments. But there is no clear list of what is covered by the law.

The Capitol Resource Institute, which describes itself as “California’s leading pro-family grassroots advocacy group,” lists this definition of “confidential medical appointment” on its Web site:

“The sky is the limit. The student may seek any type of confidential medical services including, but not limited to, drug therapy, suicide counseling, an abortion, etc. The student is also free to state that he/she is leaving campus for ‘confidential medical services’ and then proceed to loiter the streets, go to the mall, etc.”

But citing an opinion by the state’s attorney general, the 4,200-student district has avoided requiring parental consent for such appointments. Attorney General Bill Lockyer has stated that, according to his reading of the law, schools cannot legally require parental consent.

“My opinion has to be based on the attorney general’s opinion,” Superintendent Maggie Deetz said. “I cannot recommend to my board something, in the attorney general’s opinion, that violates state law.”

High school Board President Dan Miller said his main concern is upholding the law while protecting the rights of children who have unstable homes and thus might be afraid to tell their parents or guardians when seeking sensitive medical treatment.

For those children, the district’s current policy works best, he said.

“It’s a sound policy until somebody can come up with something better,” he said, “and I’m advocating compliance with state law.”

Parents asking for a change in the district’s policy maintain that the attorney general’s opinion is simply that, and not law.

The school district, on the other hand, believes that Lockyer’s opinion stands as acceptable interpretation of the education code.

The item on tonight’s agenda is for discussion purposes only, and the policy isn’t expected to be changed or modified during the meeting at Bear River High School.

Backers of the change say the district is using a rule that isn’t parent-friendly and diminishes the rights of parents while students are on school grounds.

“I think it’s a basic parental right that parents should know where their children are during school hours,” said Horne, whose youngest child graduated from Bear River High School in June.

Horne said she is championing the policy change not in her role as an elected official, but as a concerned parent.

Jean Gregory, the parent of two children at Bear River High School and a registered home health nurse, said she’s seeking primarily to educate parents on the high school district’s policy. Once parents are informed of the high school district’s stance, Gregory said, they can be in a better position to enact change on a state level.

“All we’re trying to do is inform people and let them know about the policy,” she said. Once they know, “I don’t think it will be difficult to change this.”

Gregory has enlisted the Capitol Resource Institute to conduct polls and represent the interests of those who want the policy changed at tonight’s board meeting.

“Parents should be notified for consent for any reason,” said Karen England, program director for Capitol Resources Institute. “The parents are the ones legally and morally responsible for them.”

The Capitol Resource Institute has been successful in lobbying school districts in Roseville and Fairfield to change their policies to require parental consent for children to leave campus for any reason during school hours.

The policy has angered some locally who believe a change in policy would violate a student’s rights and flout state law.

“It’s a concern of mine that this board, without professional testimony on the impact to our children, would even consider taking away their right to privacy or to seek help whenever needed,” said Mary Longmore, whose grandchildren attend Nevada Union High School.

What the law says

California Education Code section 46010.1 states that, beginning in the 1986-87 school year, “the governing board of each school district shall, each academic year, notify pupils in grades 7-12 … and the parents or guardians of all pupils enrolled in the district, that school authorities may excuse any pupils enrolled in the district, 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.”

In a Nov. 29, 2004, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer wrote this opinion about the parental-consent law:

“A school district may not require that a student obtain written parental consent prior to releasing the student from school to receive confidential medical services.”

Lockyer also wrote that “A school district may not adopt a policy pursuant to which the district will notify a parent when a student leaves school to obtain confidential medical services.”

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