Los Angeles To Test In-School Clinic
The Los Angeles Board of Education agreed this month to try out the idea of a school-based health clinic in one of the city's high schools.
In a 6-1 vote, the board approved the establishment of a clinic that would not only provide general medical services but dispense birth-control information and contraceptive devices. Board members said they would seek private funding for the project, which they said they hoped would be operating by the fall of 1986.
"We feel very strongly that we have got to do something to address the problem of babies having babies," said Jackie Goldberg, one of two board members who introduced the resolution. The resolution notes that in 1984 young women ages 15 to 19 accounted for 11.6 percent of the total live births in Los Angeles County, but represented only 8.5 percent of the county's total female population.
Ms. Goldberg said her interest in the concept of a high-school health clinic was sparked by recent news reports of a similar clinic at the DuSable High School in Chicago. (See Education Week, Oct. 2, 1985.)
Student health clinics are currently operating at high schools in several other cities nationwide, but only a handful of these clinics dispense birth-control devices and pills. The Chicago clinic, which does so, has faced opposition from religious and pro-life groups.
Ms. Goldberg said she considered the general medical services offered by the clinics as important as guidance on birth control.
"There are many parts of Los Angeles where teen-agers are not getting any medical care at all," she said. "I think it's an idea whose time has come."
David Armor, the lone dissenting board member, said last week that he voted against the measure in part because "we have all kinds of educational problems that we still are struggling to solve, and now we are being asked to take on another problem, a medical problem: teen-age pregnancy."
"I question whether the school system is ready for it," he added.
Mr. Armor said he also opposed the measure because he did not think it represented an appropriate approach to the problem. "If we're going to tackle a new problem like pregnancy," he said, "it seems to me that we should develop some kind of counseling and prevention program to encourage young people to avoid sexual involvement at these young ages."
At a two-hour hearing before the vote, the board heard testimony against the measure from representatives of "conservative and religious groups," who argued that the clinic represented "a morality issue, sanctioning sex to youngsters," said Shel Erlich, a board spokesman.
Those testifying in support of the measure included a pregnant 16-year-old and a bishop from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Public opinion on the resolution was about evenly divided at the meeting, Mr. Erlich said.
Before opening the clinic, the board must iron out a problem involving parental-consent forms. Under California law, health professionals and clinics may not require parental permission from minors who want to obtain birth-control devices and pills. But board members said they hoped a blanket parental-consent form allowing a student to use any of the clinic's services, without specifying which ones, would be permissible under the law.
The board's staff will seek to raise the $100,000 to $200,000 needed to establish the clinic, according to Ms. Goldberg. The staff is also searching for an appropriate school to house the clinic. Community support and location are key factors, Mr. Erlich said.