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Medical absence issue awaits trustees

A fiery controversy has simmered at Modesto City Schools over students' ability to leave campus for confidential medical services, and trustees hope to put out those flames at their board meeting Monday night.

Two months ago, trustees on a 4-3 vote gave their initial support to a policy change that would allow junior high and high school students to seek confidential medical services during school hours without their parents knowing. Now, it appears the change doesn't have the support of a majority of the trustees.

Without the change, city schools would follow current policy, which requires that parents submit written consent for their children to obtain confidential medical services.

Medical services can include pregnancy testing, contraception, abortions, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and counseling and treatment for rape, drug abuse and mental health.

Parents, educators, health professionals and activists have shown their support or opposition to the policy through phone calls, e-mails, letters and comments at board meetings.

Here's where the trustees stand:

Steve Grenbeaux: Voted for the change, but now favors keeping the current policy, which has lasted for 20 years.

"Until the courts make a decision (about the legality of the confidential medical services policy), it's in the best interest of the district to stay with what we have," he said. "The board has very strong feelings on both sides, but as a trustee, we need to put our personal feelings aside and do what's in the best interest for the district."

Some school districts might be headed to court over the policy, and any decision in those cases would set precedent for other districts.

Nancy Cline: Opposed any changes because "I feel parents need to have a say with what's going on with their children," she said. "I don't feel schools should usurp those rights. Parents are the first and lifelong teachers of their children."

For those children who are being abused, Cline said they can seek help through Child Protective Services. Cline said she appreciated how many people got involved. Her church soon will hold a forum for parents who want to learn how to get more involved in education.

Steve Collins: Voted for the policy change. But he said he'll back down until a court case is decided or he can find a way to convince the community to favor a change.

"The most important thing is to maintain public support of Modesto City Schools. ... I still think (the change) is the right thing to do, but (the opposition) is a dumb thing to fight."

Gary Lopez: Said the public has spoken and the current policy will stand. Lopez had reservations about abortions students could obtain under the policy change and wants parents to be notified in those situations.

Cindy Marks: Wants to keep "rights with the parents, not with the school district," she said. "It's been a policy of mine since I've been on the board — making sure parents are informed. Parents are held responsible for the child until they turn 18."

Belinda Rolicheck: Voted in support of confidential medical services and probably will abstain from voting Monday.

"I still don't believe it's a bad policy, but we need to have more consensus. I don't think many families would be affected by this policy, and I think it'd be used very sparingly," she said. "This is a very, very important issue and we need to continue talking about it."

Kim Spina: Voted for the change and will abstain if there's a vote Monday.

"I think the system, our current policy, is terribly broken. We need to protect parents' rights and those students who are living unimaginable lives," she said, noting that community members have threatened to remember trustees supporting the policy and vote against the four up for re-election in November.

Spina wants to hold community forums with doctors, high school counselors and nurses and then take up the issue in the near future.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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