S.D. Unified Changes Parental Notification Policy
GLORIA PENNER (Host): All right, our final topic, interesting topic because there were no public protests when the San Diego Unified School Board unanimously voted to change the rule requiring that parents be notified if a student were pregnant or considering an abortion or leaving campus for a confidential medical service. So, Barbara, first of all, what does the new rule say?
BARBARA BRY (Assistant Publisher/Opinions Editor, SDNN.com): The new rule says that if you’re a student in a high school and you go to see a teacher or a counselor and you want to talk about a medical issue whether it’s pregnancy, alcohol, drugs, you know, abuse in your home, it’s a confidential conversation and that you are allowed to leave campus for a medical appointment related to any of these things, and that the school does not need to notify your parents.
PENNER: So why – this – the previous law…
BRY: Also, the school cannot notify your parents if you don’t want them to.
BRY: That’s not – doesn’t need – cannot.
PENNER: …the previous rule said that the school had to do this, right?
PENNER: So why did the board change it?
BRY: The board changed it because the City of San Diego was out of compliance with state law, that’s why they changed it.
PENNER: And were you surprised that there were no protests?
BRY: I was surprised, although they picked a week, you know, which is spring break. But in the end, you know, it’s important to be in compliance with state law, although Vista, the school board there is not in compliance with state law. In fact, Ana Tintocalis of KPBS has won, I think, a number of awards for her reporting on the situation in Vista, and the state acknowledges that Vista is out of compliance and just says we don’t have the money and time to do anything about it.
PENNER: So there you have it. You now have, in the city of San Diego, the San Diego Unified School District, a teen child can leave school in order to have confidential medical services and also can have a discussion with a parent – I mean, with a teacher or a counselor explaining that they’re pregnant or even that they want to have an abortion and the parent doesn’t have to be notified. I’d like to know what you think of that. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. And, as Barbara said, Vista Unified School Board affirmed that its students must get parental consent to leave campus on confidential medical matters. And Vista say (sic) they are not violating state law with this policy. Interesting dichotomy here. 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Ricky, how do you respond to those who believe that without this kind of parental involvement and control more teens will get into trouble?
RICKY YOUNG (Government Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, I don’t really know how to respond to those people. I think there’s a parental issue where, you know, parents would like to know about this sort of thing. The advocates say the obvious answer to that is have a good relationship with your children. You know, right now there’s a – one of these cases that sort of bubble up through conservative media that’s breaking on Fox News about a case in Seattle where, you know, school officials put a girl in a taxi and sent her off for an abortion and her parents didn’t find out about it for months, and they’re pretty mad about it. And in the conservative world, this is a giant outrage, you know, and so we’ll see whether that, as tends to happen, these things then spill over into the mainstream media and we’ll see what the – what that ends up looking like and whether it makes people mad. But it doesn’t seem to be an issue here anyway, judging by the two people who came to the school board meeting and were supportive of this change in policy.
PENNER: Yet, Barbara, you are on the board of Planned Parenthood. And…
BRY: I’m on the board of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties…
BRY: …which was very much in favor of the change.
PENNER: But it’s taken three years to get the policy changed, so where did the resistance come from?
BRY: I think it just took time of working through the process to get it changed and into compliance with state law. What Planned Parenthood is most concerned about is teen safety, and, according to some studies, over 70% of teens do confide in their parents when they have an issue such as pregnancy and the 30% who don’t, usually there’s a reason. There may be an abusive parent at home, the pregnancy could’ve been caused by a family member, and the most important thing is that you don’t want teens seeking inappropriate medical assistance or if, in the event of pregnancy, you don’t want them seeking, you know, an illegal abortion which could kill them. And what’s interesting about Vista, you know, I think the teen pregnancy rate in Vista is about the highest in the county.
PENNER: At the last census, yes. We haven’t gotten the results of this census yet. Let’s hear from Allison in Tierrasanta. Allison, you’re on with the editors.
ALLISON (Caller, Tierrasanta): My question really is about liability because the San Diego School District would seem to be liable for a child who left the school for any reason without parental permission and something were to happen to that child. If my child left the high school without parental permission, I don’t care if it was for an abortion or if it was just to who knows what, and something were to happen to her, I would hold the school liable. I would sue them. And it’s not an issue of I don’t want – you know, I want to know about her having the abortion or I need to know about her having medical care, whatever, it’s about the safety of my child and the fact that I did not give her permission and the school did not notify me of her whereabouts when I was under the assumption she was at school.
PENNER: Okay, well, I don’t know whether any of our editors have the answer to that but they’re willing to try so we’ll start with JW August.
JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): Well, the Attorney General issued opinion in 2004 and that’s what the city complied with, the Unified School District complied with. And he said these children are entitled to privacy. Now as far as being able to sue over that, anybody can sue over anything but that doesn’t mean you don’t implement policies that the Attorney General says you should implement. I think the school district would be pretty safe. That’s not to say it may move up to a higher court and may change – the law of the land – the law of California may change. Anybody can sue. But if I was a school district, I’d go along with what the existing legal thought is on it.
YOUNG: It is pretty hard to sue over a district that is following state law.
PENNER: Okay, thank you very much and, Allison, thank you as well. Graham in San Diego is with us now. Graham, you’re on with the editors.
GRAHAM (Caller, San Diego): I was wondering, the 70% of kids that are letting their parents know that they are pregnant, is there any thought that that percentage would go down if they were allowed to basically go off and have an abortion during school hours? And if so, wouldn’t that policy sort of just be helping to cover up mistakes rather than bring them out into the open so that the family could deal with them.
PENNER: Barbara, can you follow his reasoning?
BRY: I don’t follow the reasoning. I think – I know what Planned Parenthood is most concerned about…
YOUNG: I’m – If I could…
BRY: …is teen safety but maybe Ricky gets it.
YOUNG: No, I just want to explain what I think the caller is saying…
YOUNG: …which is if, you know, right now there may be a higher percentage of kids confiding in their parents because they have to if they want to get medical services. You know, where if they didn’t have to, the caller is saying, wouldn’t that go down?
BRY: Yeah, but in fact the city of San – the San Diego schools have not – have been acting as if they were following…
YOUNG: Well, some have.
BRY: Yeah, they’ve been primarily acting as if the state law – as if they were complying with the state law. And, you know, Planned Parenthood has data from around the country on these kinds of issues and the key is you want teens to be safe. You want them to get good medical advice and care, and you don’t want them going into backroom alleys.
PENNER: How will an organization such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, Barbara, press to get Vista to conform to state law?
BRY: You know, I really don’t know what they’re doing right now but I will find out.
PENNER: Okay. And we have time for one more call. Julianne in Carlsbad. Julianne, if you make it brief, please?
JULIANNE (Caller, Carlsbad): Hi. I just wanted to let you know that I work in Unified – the Vista Unified School District and at my site about 25% of our students are teen parents and about 30% of them qualify as homeless. We think that those numbers are actually higher but those are the students that we have identified. And I think what the public needs to understand is that for somebody coming from a fairly educated, middle class home, our involvement in our teens’ lives is different and it’s sometimes hard for us to understand the lives of people who don’t live in our world. But I know from interacting with a lot of these teens on a daily basis that a lot of them come from abusive homes, from dysfunctional homes, and we are the adults in their lives. We are the people that they come to for help. And…
PENNER: Julianne, thank you so much for that call. You really sort of put a different face on it.
YOUNG: Well, but I’m just curious, Julianne, if you – what do you do about the policy in your district then? Are you – like are you complying with it and telling parents or not?
JULIANNE: Well, I’ve never actually been faced with the exact situation of a student coming to me and saying that they’re contemplating an abortion. Actually, a lot of our students don’t. A lot of them are Hispanic and they come from Catholic backgrounds and they never even consider it.
PENNER: Okay, well, thank you. Thank you for that information. I think that’s a part of the story that we don’t hear about very often and we certainly appreciate it. So, finally, at this point, we assume that San Diego Unified will continue with its new rule and things seem to have settled down quite nicely. It’s going to be a question of what Vista decides to do and we’re going to wait and see on that. I want to thank our editors for being with us today. I want to thank Barbara Bry from SDNN.com, and from the San Diego Union-Tribune, we thank Ricky Young as well, and JW August from 10News. Again, I remind you that if you have any comments that you want to get to us and to our audience, you can always do it by going to our website, KPBS.org/editors. This has been the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.