After impassioned arguments for both sides, Modesto City Schools trustees narrowly passed a board policy Monday night allowing students to get confidential medical services without parent or guardian knowledge.
State law allows junior high and high school students to leave campus for some medical treatments or counseling. The Modesto district's "absences and excuses" policy requires it to notify parents that the district may release students without parental consent.
Trustees Steve Grenbeaux, Steve Collins, Kim Spina and Belinda Rolicheck voted yes. Trustees Cindy Marks, Gary Lopez and Nancy Cline dissented.
They also directed staff to clarify which school personnel are in charge of releasing students for medical services when the item comes back for a second reading and formal approval next month.
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The item came up in February when Marks and Cline disagreed with the policy allowing students to leave campus for confidential medical services and wanted staff to do more research.
District attorney Roman Munoz said the board is only updating policy to conform with education code that went into effect in 1986 and states "the governing board of each school district shall, each academic year, notify pupils in grades 7 to 12, inclusive, and the parents or guardians of all 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."
Medical services can include pregnancy testing, contraception, abortions, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, counseling and treatment for rape, drug abuse and mental health, and a variety of other medical services.
The policy also allows absences for dental appointments, funerals and religious holidays.
Cline made a motion for a resolution that would not allow students to leave campus at all except for medical emergencies. That was voted down along the same 3-4 line.
Cline and Lopez said students could obtain the same confidential services outside of school hours. They, along with Marks, argued that parental consent should be required for any medical care sought during school hours.
"Students can do this after hours," Cline said. "If they're going to do that, they can do it outside the realm of school. We need to keep school about school."
The four trustees who voted the other way said students should be able to receive confidential services, saying not all parents are loving or involved in their children's lives.
"This is not a matter of being parent-friendly or parent-hostile," Collins said. "Some parents, and I've met some of them, are monsters. We need to protect those students who have that misfortune."
About a dozen speakers addressed the board, representing students' rights and parents' rights.
Arnie Conrad, a parent of two Modesto school alumni, said parents' rights should supersede those of their children. He asked trustees to think of "where a loving God would weigh in on this."
Other opponents noted the conflict with other policies that do not allow students off campus.
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte Mode Vice President Deborah Ortiz emphasized that the law regarding confidential medial services covers more than just sexual or reproduction issues. The organization operates a clinic in Modesto.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.