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Education Reporter

Riled Parents Rally to Victory
California Governor vetoes school clinic bill

KAREN HOLGATE SACRAMENTO, CA -- On October 6, California Governor Gray Davis (D) vetoed AB 1363, a controversial school health clinic bill that has raised the ire of thousands of parents in the state. More than 2,000 angry parents stormed the state capitol on September 27 in response to the legislatures passage of the bill, some traveling from as far away as San Diego. They came to protest and to demand a veto from the Governor.

"The veto is a definite victory for all those parents and grandparents who let Governor Davis know their feelings about this bill," says Karen Holgate, president of southern California-based Parents National Network (PNN). "Every one of them deserves our congratulations. Their voices were indeed heard!"

Mrs. Holgate cautions, however, that the issue is not yet dead. "This is a tremendous victory, and we have definitely slowed the momentum for clinic expansion, but we cant rule it out altogether," she explains. "It has become apparent that the bills author, Assemblywoman Susan Davis, and the Governor have been talking, and that some behind the scenes maneuvering has been going on."

She cited Ms. Davis commentary in the San Diego UnionTribune following the veto, which states: "It may be possible that Governor Davis will decide to implement these [AB1363] guidelines administratively for access to Healthy Families insurance coverage." The Healthy Families program is available for children from birth through age 19 in families earning more than the allowable income to qualify for Medi-Cal (the low-income state insurance program).

In his veto letter, the Governor directed the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, which will decide whether or not to include school-based clinics in its programs, to report to him by Dec. 31, 1999 if the agency has any "programmatic or health plan contracting barriers" to including such clinics in the Healthy Families program.

If passed, AB 1363 would have significantly expanded the number and scope of Californias school-based clinics to provide students with "comprehensive" primary care and mental health services, possibly without parental consent. Services would have included prescribing and dispensing drugs, mental health assessments, pelvic exams, diagnosis and treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases, prescribing and dispensing birth control, and treatment for substance abuse, weight control, and acne.

"You name it, the clinics would offer it," notes Mrs. Holgate. "The bill also allowed each health care provider, meaning clinic, to establish its own parental consent policy in accordance with state law. " She stresses that the "parental consent" provision in the bill was misleading.

According to Sue Stokka, former school board member for 12 years, current California law allows students aged 12 and older to sign themselves up for mental health counseling and to apply for Medi-Cal to pay for the services. Once students are signed up, parents no longer have the right to review their medical records, which means parents are not given any information about the treatment their children are receiving or about any progress they are making.

California kids can also sign themselves up for "confidential" medical services, and the only state requirement is that school districts must notify parents of the policy once each academic year. For example, included with the many forms students bring home at he start of the school year might be a statement that reads: "You have the right as a parent to be informed that school authorities may excuse your child from school for the purpose of obtaining confidential medical services without your consent."

Mrs. Holgate explains that the danger posed by AB 1363 was that it would have "drastically expanded the possibilities and opportunities for trampling on parents rights," in that it would have superseded all existing laws. "The bills language actually stated that clinics, not parents, would give permission to school nurses to perform various procedures."

In a press release dated Sept. 28, PNN quoted California pediatrician Dr. Jane Anderson as saying: "This bill allows children to consent to medical care and depends on children to provide accurate medical information to the school. Although the childs doctor may be informed or asked to supply information, there are many loopholes which would allow schools to treat children without obtaining past medical information."

Assemblywoman Davis insisted that her bill would provide health care for Californias many uninsured children, and that it would not force them to use the clinics services. Critics countered that the legislation would in fact encourage students to avail themselves of these services, and that the clinics would be "user friendly" and open throughout the school day to accommodate students. Adds Mrs. Holgate: "This bill would have allowed children to participate in unlimited medical and/or mental health services during classroom hours without mom or dad finding out."

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