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Vista Unified Strengthens Controversial Policy

Audio

Aired 4/20/09

The Vista Unified School Board made it clear yesterday that its students must get parental consent to leave campus to see a doctor about sensitive issues like pregnancy, sexual assault or mental health issues. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.

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(Photo: A small group of students’ rights advocates hold up signs during the Vista Unified school board meeting. Ana Tintocalis/KPBS )


A small contingent of students' rights advocates did their best to persuade Vista school trustees that teenagers should be allowed to leave campus for confidential medical services without telling their parents.
 

They say teens who are suicidal, addicted to drugs or pregnant might never get the help they need if they have to first tell their moms or dads.
 

Students rights advocate Rose Ochoa pointed out state law and state education code gives students the right to leave without parental consent.
 

She recounted one case in which a teenage girl needed help after she was sexually abused by her uncle.
 

“And the parents didn't want her to acknowledge that, and they didn't allow her to seek services after that,” Ochoa said. “Because of these protective laws that we have, she was able to get the services that she needed in that really, really tough time.”
 

But those stories were not enough to convince many parents at the meeting, who say those cases are few and far between. Lori Salazar Conk realizes there are certain laws that protect young people, but she says parents have rights too.
 

“I slowly see our parental rights eroded,” Salazar Conk said. “But I pray when you decide make a decision on this, you don't take away the rights of us parents whose kids do come to us when they have problems.”
 

In the end, the Vista school board voted unanimously to revise the policy it to make it clear that under no circumstance can a student leave a campus without their parents permission.
 

The ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the National Center on Youth Law pressured the board to change the policy so it conforms to state law and state education code -- both of which give students the right to leave campus without a parental permission.
 

But school board president Carol Herrera says school counselors can help bridge the gap between a parent and a child.

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(Photo: Vista Unified school board president Carol Herrera help to cast the unanimous vote to support parental notification. Ana Tintocalis/KPBS )

“We need to make sure that in our high schools and in our middle schools, that we have listening counselors, we have understanding psychologists,” Herrera said. When we do that, then we have done all we can to create a solid safe environment for our students.”
 

The ACLU of San Diego County says it still has concerns and Vista is opening itself up to lawsuits by going against state law.
 

But Vista school trustees say the law allows some room for interpretation and they want to clarify that parents do have to be notified.
 

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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