In the wake of reports of a regional blood shortage, Antelope Valley Union High School District officials are considering lifting the ban declared last year on blood drives at local high schools.
The district is the only one of 67 in Los Angeles County that does not allow the drives. The ban was instituted in January, 1994, after a 17-year-old passed out while donating blood.
Although anyone 17 or older can give blood without parental consent, the student's mother filed a complaint against the district, and the school board feared a lawsuit.
"We had to be a little more cautious at that point in time because we were not in as good financial condition," said board member Billy Pricer. "We could not afford a chance of a lawsuit on anything."
But at the school board meeting Wednesday night, Pascale Reich of the American Red Cross said that, before the ban, local students had been donating 600 to 700 pints of blood a year, enough for about 2,500 patients.
It's a significant amount, she said, especially at a time when blood donations have dropped off.
For example, said Red Cross official Cheryle Babbitt, the organization's Southern California regional office--which serves Los Angeles and Orange counties--was close to its goal last year of having a stock of 1,100 pints of O-positive blood. This year, the office has only about 350 pints in stock.
Most of the five-member school board said they favored lifting the ban if certain conditions are met, such as requiring students to have a signed parental permission form when they donate.
"I don't have a problem with students donating blood," said board member Bill Olenick. "I like the spirit of sharing and contributing to the community. The real problem was the parents didn't know about it."
But the school superintendent opposes lifting the ban, even if permission slips are required.
"From my standpoint the question isn't an issue of giving of blood," said Supt. Robert Girolamo. "The issue is, I just don't want to get ourselves caught in an issue of potential litigation."
Reich said a fear of lawsuits should not stand in the way of a blood drive.
"You'll always have the parent who wants to sue for financial gain," she told the board. "That parent will sue because their son got hurt at football practice, or their daughter in cheerleading practice, or someone got sick eating the food."
As to Girolamo's suggestion that high school students could donate at blood drives outside the schools, Reich countered: "Kids won't donate at night. You need it during school hours. You need the student leadership class involved, going out and recruiting other students."
Red Cross officials said that high school students in the region donated about 19,500 pints of blood during the 1993-94 fiscal year, about 9% of all blood collected.
The board is scheduled to continue the discussion at its March meeting.