An advisory committee to the Culver City School Board last week voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing a campus health clinic to dispense contraceptives to high school and middle school students whose parents sign a consent form.
The Health Center Community Advisory Committee, composed of teachers, parents, students and health professionals, decided to recommend that contraceptives be offered along with gynecological care, treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy counseling.
All but two of 26 committee members favored giving parents a blanket consent form covering all services offered at the clinic, including birth control devices. The form, however, would give parents the option of forbidding the clinic to dispense contraceptives to their children.
The committee was formed earlier this year by the school board to recommend which services should be offered at a health clinic on the campus shared by Culver City Middle School and High School. The board appointed the committee after officials from the UCLA Medical School departments of obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics offered to run a campus clinic for the schools.
Last month, the committee voted to recommend that the clinic offer a variety of other health services unrelated to sex. The committee decided to devote an entire meeting to discussion of gynecological care and birth control services because they are the most controversial.
The committee will submit its recommendation to the school board Dec. 16.
The blanket consent form would allow the clinic staff to offer treatment of eating disorders, vision and hearing problems, minor injuries and illness, sports-related injuries and drug and alcohol abuse. The clinic would also provide immunization services, nutrition education, laboratory testing and mental health counseling.
Sex-related health services offered at the clinic would include breast and pelvic exams (including Pap smears) and treatment of ovarian cysts, venereal diseases and menstrual and breast abnormalities. The clinic would also refer students to outside health agencies for treatment when necessary.
Contraceptives were made optional to relieve fears among parents that their children will obtain the devices at the clinic without permission, said Vera Jashni, assistant superintendent of the Culver City Unified School District and chairwoman of the advisory committee.
Birth control devices offered at the campus clinic would include pills, diaphragms, sponges, condoms, foams and jellies, according to a UCLA spokesman.
Debate during Wednesday's meeting centered on whether the consent form should enable parents to accept or reject any of the clinic's services, rather than just contraceptives.
Thomas J. Supple, a parent opposed to the sex-related services, argued that parents should be able to control any services they would allow the clinic to perform.
But Tom Long, director of adolescent medicine at UCLA Medical School, told the committee that clinic doctors would need the freedom to treat sex-related disorders. Some of the symptoms of venereal disease or pregnancy are headaches and nausea, and if a doctor treats them he or she may be legally liable if the parent did not want treatment for sex-related problems, Long said.
Dr. Richard Ross, a physician and member of the committee, said doctors must be free to provide immediate treatment if a pregnancy or sex-related disease, such as gonorrhea, is detected.
"If you want quality care, you've got to let the doctors do their job," Ross said.
Before voting on the consent form, the committee reviewed the final results of a survey of 1,197 Culver City students by UCLA. The survey found that 29% of middle school and 54% of high school students say they are sexually active. Of those students who said they had had sex, 29% of the middle school students and 31% of the high school students said they had used a contraceptive during their first sexual experience.
Of the students who reported having sex more than once, the survey found that 13% of the middle school students and 12% of the high school students said their experience resulted in a pregnancy.
Among middle school students who said they had had sex, the average age at which they lost their virginity, to the nearest decimal point, was 11.1 years for boys and 11.7 years for girls, according to the study. The average age of first intercourse reported by sexually active high school boys was 13.2 years; the figure for girls was 14.6.
If the clinic project is approved, Culver City will become the fourth school in the Los Angeles area with a campus clinic. The Los Angeles Unified School District will open campus clinics at Los Angeles, Jordan and San Fernando high schools next year.