In today’s NY Post, I challenge Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s decision to bypass affirmative parental consent in launching the Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive (Sexual) Health pilot program which distributes to contraceptives and birth control to minor adolescents at 14 public high schools.
Walcott is taken to task for substituting his judgment for that of parents, for reneging on his pledge to improve parental engagement, and for undermining the already fragile parent-teen relationship.
I write –
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has had a pretty rotten 12 months on the parent front.
The latest, of course, was The Post’s scoop on how sexually active city high school students are getting emergency contraceptives and injectable birth control in school, along with their Cheerios and cheese sticks.
Yet about this time last year, Walcott was taking heat forimplementing Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial, one-size-fits-all sex-education program without consulting parents or fully informing them about what would be taught in their local schools.
Walcott even refused (still refuses) to give parents the ability to “opt in” to an abstinence-centered sex-ed curriculum.
Plus, last week, The Wall Street Journal broke the news that the level of parental engagement by the city Department of Education fell last year – despite Walcott’s pledge to improve it.
A year ago, just as DoE was rolling out its sexed-up sex-ed curriculum citywide, it laid off 63 parent coordinators and made the position optional at high schools. Parents’ main points of contact were being eliminated when they were needed most.
Social scientists call that “cognitive dissonance” – implementing contradictory ideas at the same time.
In New York, cognitive dissonance passes for governance. That is, until the contradiction hits the front page.
Parents have a right to know what programs are taking place in their children’s school, but Chancellor Walcott and DoE don’t seem to care.
They’d apparently prefer parents to stay passive, uninvolved and on the sidelines when it comes to the most intimate aspects of their children’s sexual health.
When it comes to health-care decisions involving minors, parents should have to opt in, rather have to notice a letter the city sends home and fill out a form to opt out. That default lets the government substitute its judgment for theirs.
Parents aren't asked to opt-out their children from field trips. If a parent doesn't return a signed consent form, the child doesn't get to go on the class trip. But don’t return a signed opt-out form, and your kid is eligible for a hormonal cocktail whenever she wants.
Walcott is creating Parent Academies, but it looks like he’s the one who needs schooling in how to engage parents.
Parental consent implies accountability – which Walcott and Bloomberg have berated indolent parents for shirking.
By the way, what happens when a teen has an adverse reaction to these birth-control and “Plan B” chemicals? Does anyone think the courts will rule the city’s not liable because the parent didn’t return a signed opt-out form that he or she may never have received?
I think a number of personal injury lawyers will love testing that premise.
We need to reduce, if not eliminate, teen pregnancy in our city – but we won’t do it by further undermining the parent-child relationship.
There was a time when Americans spoke out against foreign totalitarian regimes that treated children as if they were property of the state.
Real parent engagement goes beyond discussing a child’s academic progress. If the city is to intervene, it needs a whole family-approach that brings parents and their adolescent kids together to address sexual and mental-health issues.
If he’s truly committed to real parental engagement, Walcott will replace birth-control distribution with something that connects teens and parents.
My friend, Dr. Neil Calman (chair of the Family Medicine Department at Mt. Sinai Hospital) posted his comment to the NYPost.com website. His comment defends the program but he also points out that the schools have a role to play in facilitating conversations between teens and their parents. Dr. Calman’s comment follows below:
Subject: Schools can’t replace parents, Dennis — NY Post.com
“OK let’s stop for a second. The law allows minors to seek care for contraception and pregnancy related as well as STD related concerns WITHOUT parental consent. This can be done legally by any licensed physician or nurse practitioner or health facility. Hormone injections are not being given by social studies teachers in schools. They are being given by trained, licensed school health professionals. This provides increased access to teens to prevent unwanted pregnancies, which, as weall know, contribute to dropping out of school, abortions (which also do not need parental consent), and in many cases, teenage motherhood which continues the cycle of inadequate education and, possibly, poverty. So let’s not stop what is going on in the schools. Rather, let’s encourage the school health facilities to facilitate, if teens agree, conversations with their parents and encourage -maybe even help – their parents to feel more comfortable having these conversations with their children.”— Neil Calman, MD
What do you think?