Bill calls for stronger parental consent

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) has introduced a bill that he says would strengthen laws that require parents' written consent before a school can let students out early for confidential medical procedures or to teach them about sex, gender and sexual orientation.

The Parental Oversight and Involvement Act would also require parents' consent before students in grades 1 to 12 can be exposed to mental or physiological screenings and classes related to family life, morality or religion.

Though other state laws and school district rules address these issues, the assemblyman said he is trying to create statewide uniformity and expand existing state law to all grade levels. Existing laws, according to his bill, cover grades 7-12 in many of the areas he's trying to address.

Mansoor, who held a press conference Wednesday with Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute — a nonprofit organization that dubs itself as a defender of religious freedom and parents' rights — said his bill is "about notifying the parents and making sure they are aware. It's about involving the parents."

When asked to elaborate on each of his proposals, Mansoor, who held his short press conference in his Costa Mesa district office, said he simply wants to keep parents in the loop.

When asked if this was about abortion, Dacus replied, saying the law could be applied to circumstances involving the procedure. Neither he nor Mansoor elaborated.

Mansoor's proposals, however, would turn the clock back on many benefits public school students gain from the current law, said Sharla Smith, HIV/STD prevention education consultant with the state Department of Education.

The education code, which was amended in 2003, allows school districts to passively notify parents or guardians of students in middle and high school of HIV/AIDS prevention instructions. The instruction would commence in seventh grade.

School districts also provide comprehensive sex education at any grade level, but they are age-appropriate. Newport-Mesa Unified provides sex and HIV/AIDS prevention education in accordance with state law, said Chuck Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education for the district.

Mansoor wants parents' written consent before such education is provided.

Passive notifications don't require written consent from parents, but informs them of the type of instructions their children will be receiving. And the parents have the right to opt out of allowing their children to receive the education. Since passive notification went into effect, public schools have seen many benefits, Smith said.

"We have had very successful education programs since the passive parental consent," she said. "California now has the lowest pregnancy rate for teens in all 50 states. We've had a reduction in teen sexually transmitted diseases, and we're the lowest in teen HIV infection."

Surveys that were conducted after the education code changed in 2003 show that parents, even ones who are identified as conservative, are in favor of passive notifications and the education their children are receiving about sex and HIV/AIDS prevention, Smith said.

"Parents say, 'I want to talk to my children, but I don't know what to say,' " she said.

The materials are deemed age-appropriate and medically-accurate, which is required by law.

"Students are learning not only about HIV, how to prevent AIDS, but how to say no and how to develop real concrete social and verbal skills for saying no," Smith said.

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Restrictions on leaving schools

Excluding emergencies, state law requires schools to notify the parents or guardians of students in grades 7-12 at the beginning of the year that the school might allow students out for confidential medical procedures, said Linda Davis-Alldritt, school nurse consultant with the state Department of Education.

Mansoor wants to stop the schools from allowing any students out for any reason — without a written consent from the parents.

An example of confidential medical procedure is testing for sexually-transmitted diseases, Davis-Alldritt said.

"If the child needs testing for sexually transmitted diseases they got from their father or the mother's boyfriend or someone else, then rather than needing to get permission from their folks or their father and they are afraid, they can be permitted to go get tested," she said.

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'We're talking about respect'

According to Mansoor's bill, existing laws already require the school to obtain a written consent before questions or testing can be done regarding the students and their families' beliefs or practice of morality, family life, sex, or religion. Mansoor's bill would add gender and sexual orientation to the law.

However, schools don't teach about family life nor address religion or sexual orientation, Smith said.

Students are encouraged to develop a healthy attitude toward others, she said.

"The only time that comes up is when we tell students no matter what kind of family you live in, what we're talking about is respect," Smith said. "Kids come from all kinds of families, we're not teaching sexual orientation."

The law also prohibits schools from conducting any psychological screening except under certain conditions, and, if performed, the schools are required to provide parents with the information. Parents or guardians of the students can decline such testing.

Mansoor's law would require written consent before schools can provide any mental or psychological screening of the students.

Psychological or mental screening is done as part of the individual program planning process and parents' written consent is required, Davis-Alldritt said.

Such screening is usually done in conjunction with special education placement.

Mansoor, known for igniting controversy with his political agenda during his tenure on the Costa Mesa City Council, gave no reason for the timing of his bill, nor could he provide an example when a child was harmed by the education they received from school.

Dacus said this bill can be deemed as pro-education because it builds trust among parents and schools.

"After all, it's that parent's child and not the state's," Dacus said, adding that this bill will further the betterment of the children of California.

Mansoor's bill, Assembly Bill 1348, was introduced in February and then amended March 24. The bill, which requires majority vote, was scheduled for a first hearing by a committee on April 13, but it was canceled at Mansoor's request.

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