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School's Physical Exam Enrages Parents, Scares Girls

STROUDSBURG, PA -- On March 19, 59 6th-grade girls at J.T. Lambert Intermediate School received physicals that included genital examinations. On May 10, the Rutherford Institute filed suit on behalf of the family of one of the girls. Additional families are expected to join the lawsuit.

Under Pennsylvania state law, every 6th grader must undergo a physical exam with a family doctor or at school. School officials said that the 59 girls had not turned in reports from their own doctors.

Despite several girls' complaints that they received internal gynecological exams, the East Stroudsburg pediatrician, Dr. Ramlah Vahanvaty and school officials say there was only an external examination of genitalia with some touching, an activity that they claim falls well within the parameters set by the State Department of Health. According to Dr. Vahanvaty, the external genital examinations were a necessary and legal means to check for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Since sexual activity and STDs are rare among 11-year-olds, many doctors and parents are not only questioning the appropriateness of examining 6th graders for genital warts and lesions but are also doubting the rationale behind the inspections. Dr. Joe A. McIlhaney, president of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, asserts that the presence of genital warts is not detected by an external, visual examination because the warts are deep inside the body and require an internal inspection to find them.

Vahanvaty also asserted that such a physical is in the students' best interest and said, "Even a parent doesn't have the right to say what's appropriate for a physician to do when they're doing an exam."

However, few parents were notified about the physical, much less the genital exam. A mother of one of the examined girls received a notice regarding the physical and had specified that she did not give her consent because her daughter, who has Lyme disease, already receives routine physical examinations. The examination was performed anyway.

Outraged parents say that even an external genital exam is completely inappropriate in a school-sponsored setting without parental consent. Despite some girls' requests to opt out or to call a parent, the 6th graders were denied both.

Dr. E.W. Throckmorton, president elect of the American Mental Health Counselors Association asserted, "The fundamental right of parents to direct health care was apparently violated by this intrusive exam."

The Pennsylvania branch of the National Education Association (NEA) supports the actions of Dr. Vahanvaty, the supervising school nurses, and the requirement of an in-school genital exam. Teachers wore blue ribbons to demonstrate their support of the exam. The district and state police agreed with Dr. Vahanvaty's statement that she acted within professional and state guidelines.

The East Stroudsburg School Board approved of the examination. A motion to give children the right to refuse examinations below the waist was defeated 8 to 1.

The East Stroudsburg School District receives $25,000 from Goals 2000. The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, signed by President Clinton in 1994, encourages public schools to offer free, health-related services to all students.

See Genital Exam Previews Greater War on Parents

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