A proposed health survey of high school students in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District would be used to justify the creation of a school-based health clinic promoting birth control, some parents and school board members contend.
The Board of Education reviewed the survey Monday night during a heated two-hour debate that ended abruptly when school board member Robert Holbrook stormed out of the meeting, accusing three of his colleague of "power politics."
The district's Community Health Advisory Council, a group of about 50 parents and health professionals, asked the board to approve the voluntary survey, which contains questions ranging from how many cigarettes a student smokes in a day to how many times the student has had sexual intercourse. The survey also asks about drug and alcohol use, eating habits and medical history.
Similar Survey in Culver City
Critics argued that the responses would be used to establish the need for a health clinic that would offer counseling in family planning. A similar student survey was taken in the Culver City Unified School District shortly before it approved a health clinic for students at its high school and middle school.
Kathleen Rhodes, who heads the advisory council that proposed the survey, said it is designed to gauge the health needs of students, not to promote birth control.
"It annoys me that people seem to think that all we want to do is hand out birth control pills at the high school," she said. "They have preconceived notions about what they think is happening and no amount of talking seems to change their minds. . . . Yes, there might be circumstances when a clinic might be needed, but we could also find that we even have too many health services in the community and school--though I seriously doubt that."
Thomas Kayn, another member of the council, disagreed. "It is obvious that they intend to establish a clinic," he said. "They just need to be honest about it."
Kayn was supported by Marcella Melendez, a Culver City parent who appeared at the Santa Monica-Malibu board meeting to argue against the survey. "The surveys are used to justify the implementation of school-based clinics," she said. "Parents are the last to know what decisions are being made about their children."
Culver City health officials said their program is running smoothly after two months of full-time operation with more than 450 students, an average of 20 students a day, participating with parental approval, said Dr. Thomas Long, the physician at the clinic.
Variety of Services
The Culver City clinic offers a variety of services including health exams, acute and emergency health care, and counseling. "We do not prescribe or dispense birth control devices, but we do refer students to other agencies," Long said.
Santa Monica-Malibu board member Holbrook said he opposes the idea of his district operating a health clinic. "I personally don't think we should be in the health business," he said. "But I think they are trying to railroad this thing through (with a survey) because their ultimate agenda is a clinic."
At Monday's meeting Holbrook complained that some of the questions in the survey had little to do with health issues.
"Since when is whether you eat at McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken (an) appropriate health care question?" he asked. "Since when is whether you carry a knife or a weapon or whether you live with both parents or who cooks your meals health care issues? I think kids will think they are dumb questions."
Motion Voted Down
Holbrook supported a motion by Della Barrett to return the questionnaire to the advisory council for revisions. However, the motion was voted down 3 to 2 by board members Peggy Lyons, Patricia Hoffman and Mary Kay Kamath. Instead, the board decided to continue the discussion April 11. Board members Dan Ross and Connie Jenkins were not present for the vote.
Angered by the vote against sending the survey back to the council for changes, Holbrook left the meeting.
"I was very disappointed that he left," Lyons said. "I understand that we have some differences, but we have to talk them out."
Lyons said she did not understand the anger over the survey. "I am concerned when people are afraid to ask questions," she said.