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Efforts Build to Revamp SD Unified’s Pregnancy Policy

Audio

Aired 4/20/09

Planned Parenthood and the Americal Civil Liberties Union of San Diego County want the San Diego Unified School District to adopt a policy that would prevent school employees from calling a parent if a teenage girl is pregnant. But critics say moms and dads have a right to know. In the second of a three-part series, KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis takes a look at the issue of parental notification in San Diego public schools.

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Dr. Shaila Serpas conducts a routine check-up at Southwest High School's student health center in Chula Vista. (Photo by Ana Tintocalis/KPBS )
 

She is a strong believer in the need for more high school-based health clinics. Serpas says they're the only way young people get the help they need during school hours -- particularly with reproductive health.
 

“We can give them recommendations, some information, then have them come back,” Serpas said. “For example, did they go to a (community) clinic? Did they start the birth control that they were interested in? If they are sexually active, its important that they get screened.”
 

Serpas says half of the students who come through her doors have a reproductive health problem -- some fear they're pregnant. Lynette Matheny is the center's school nurse. She says respecting a students’ privacy is key to building trust.

 
“That confidentiality, it's a given in here,” Matheny said. “Students feel very safe to come into our clinic because they know they're respected and what is said heard stays in here.”

 
Matheny says the confidentiality also extends beyond school. She and Dr. Serpas also try to connect students with family planning services at community health clinics.
 

Many public health groups see Southwest High's clinic as a model because it protects a students privacy.
 

But that philosophy is not supported by an existing policy in the San Diego Unified School District. It states school employees can notify parents if they learn a teenage girl is pregnant.
 

The policy first came under fire a couple years ago when Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of San Diego County unsuccessfully tried to overturn it.
 

Vince Hall is with Planned Parenthood. He says the policy violates a California privacy law and a State Attorney General's opinion -- both of which seek to protect minors.
 

“There may be fear, there may be intimidation, there might be a lot of reasons why they teenager has not be engaging in healthy family communication with their parent,” Hall said. “Having a message on the answering machine when dad gets home from work, that says ‘This is the school district and your daughter is pregnancy,’ is not the way you want to begin building that healthy communication.”
 

San Diego Unified school board president Sheila Jackson wants to do away with the existing policy. Jackson's attitude is influenced by her time as a medic in the U.S. Navy stationed in Puerto Rico. Jackson says she treated many single, young pregnant officers who sought dangerous alternatives in fear of being sent back to the U.S.  


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“Seeing young women at the age of 23 who had to be sterilized,” Jackson said. “We had to remove their female organs because they were so infected because of a procedure that was not correct. I sympathize with the parents, but I know what happens.”
 

That is why Jackson is interested in opening more high school-based health clinics on San Diego campuses.
 

But some parents say the issue is not the presence of clinics.
 

“Parents have a right to know,” says Valentina Hernandez, a mother of three in Southeast San Diego. She's a Catholic and she believes parents should be notified.
 

“(A parent is) the only person you can trust who deep down inside loves (their children)  because they are the ones who gave them birth. Yes, of course, a parent is going to be mad because (the teenager) did something they shouldn’t have done. And the only way the parent might now is by being informed by some knowledgeable person who knows.”
    

El Cajon Assemblyman Joel Anderson also opposes any change. He understands some teens come from troubled homes but he says that's not the issue.
 

“If you're advocating to replace families with schools, I'm totally against it,” Anderson said. “If you know of a parent, who is harming their child, the school has the obligation to report it.”
 

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of San Diego County are on the verge of introducing their “model policy” to the San Diego school board. It would not allow school employees to notify parents. They're hoping San Diego Unified will set the stage for other school districts to follow.
 

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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