On June 22, the Modesto City Schools board passed a preliminary motion, by a 4-3 vote, to allow students to leave class for confidential medical services without notifying parents. Parents and policy-makers alike have good reason to examine this proposal.
School boards statewide have been reviewing their excused absence policies because of misinformation and fear of lawsuits.
Vista Unified School District in San Diego County is an example. In March, a trustee of Vista Unified introduced the idea to allow students to leave campus for confidential medical appointments without a parent’s permission. The day the board was preparing to vote — most likely in favor of requiring parents’ permission — it received letters from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood stating that, by law, districts are required not to notify parents if a student leaves campus for confidential medical services.
In addition, the board members received threats of litigation if they passed policies requiring parental notification. Despite the threats, board members voted in favor of parental rights and no further legal action has occurred.
But since then, confusion over the content and intent of current law requirements has continued.
The law states that each school year, district governing boards are to notify parents or guardians that school authorities may excuse students from the school for the purpose of obtaining confidential medical services without the consent of the student’s parents or guardians.
Because it is dependent upon the local school board’s decision, the current policy for excused absences should be made clear to all families. Modesto City Schools and most California school districts do not excuse absences without written permission or acknowledgment from a parent or guardian. If the Modesto vote is confirmed, that will change.
In every case, school boards and districts should make efforts to inform and involve parents of their policies. California’s Education Code clearly states, “Parental involvement and support in the education of children is an integral part of improving academic achievement,” and “parents and guardians of pupils enrolled in public schools have the right … in the education of their children within the public schools, to be informed by the school, and to participate in the education of their children, including to be notified on a timely basis if their child is absent from school without permission.”
The duty of the governing board is to adopt policies with students’ best interests in mind. If the school board deems that students have the ability to make the best choice about leaving class for confidential reasons, then parents have the right to know the school will not inform them if that happens.
Furthermore, students, along with their parents, should be capable of making the most basic choices — including where they choose to receive their education. The best method known to improving academic achievement is keeping parents aware and involved.
Stacey is a policy fellow in education studies at Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank in Sacramento.