San Diego principals warned their students Friday not to participate in a planned one-day boycott of high schools next week to protest a proposed school-based health clinic that would distribute contraceptives.
San Diego Unified School District administrators informed principals in a memorandum that "personal absences for protesting the plan to put health clinics on school campuses will be classified as unexcused even if there is parental approval."
Principals were asked to pass the message to their students.
The directive came after an announcement by Roman Catholic Bishop Leo T. Maher on Thursday that he would support parents who kept their children home from high school Tuesday as a "means of awakening the consciences" of the school board. The proposed citywide boycott is being planned by parents in Church of the Good Shepherd parish in Mira Mesa.
Even though the district's message also went to elementary and junior high schools, those pupils are not being asked to join the boycott.
As envisioned by school health officials, the clinic would be a separate, privately funded place where low-income students could receive physical examinations, immunizations and other routine health needs, as well as contraceptives and pregnancy counseling.
A 29-member community task force appointed by the school board is studying the proposal. The panel is scheduled to give a recommendation to the trustees July 1.
Maher said Friday that any disciplinary action taken by the schools against students for participating in a "day of prayer and reflection" would be a "violation of parents' rights." In his letter Thursday, the bishop also called for a letter-writing campaign to school board members.
"The parents can use any method they want to express their views, and if they desire to have their children stay home on this occasion to awaken the consciences of the board, then they have the right to do it," Maher said.
He said he supports the boycott because "this is far more important than anything that could happen to that child (by) being absent for one day."
Maher said he believes that the task force will endorse the clinic proposal but that the board will vote it down because of public sentiment against it.
He said he has asked Trustee Kay Davis, who appears to be the swing vote on a divided five-member board, to vote against the clinic.
Maher said he made the request when Davis came to see him on another matter about two weeks ago. He said he has not spoken to any other trustees.
Bertha Pendleton, special assistant to Supt. Thomas Payzant, also told principals in the memorandum Friday that the school system will compare Tuesday's attendance with attendance of last Tuesday or Wednesday to determine whether the boycott is widespread.
Pendleton conceded that school officials will not know whether students stayed out to protest the clinic unless the students admit it. She said that the memorandum was sent to all schools because she did not realize at the time that the boycott is planned for high school students only.
Individual principals will determine whether a student should be disciplined for missing the day, she said.
"The biggest penalty is that the student loses out in terms of instruction," she said. "And, of course, instruction is very important at this time of year."
Maher said he does not believe that the boycott will be widespread because there are only six days between the May 21 date organizers sent out letters to religious organizations and the target date next Tuesday.
Mira Mesa High School Principal Jim Vlassis said he heard very little Friday about a boycott from students.
"I don't anticipate that our kids are going to participate in large numbers," he said.