Thursday, May 22, 2008

No Privacy for Pregnancy at HoCo Public Schools

After reading several articles about the issue involving Howard County and the Pregnancy Notification Policy—I wonder what’s next on the agenda for HoCo Public schools. Maybe removing the walls from bathroom stalls? Who needs privacy anyway?

The Howard County Public School system will implement a policy effective July 1,2008 that blatantly disregards students right to privacy. Students, be wary, as school staff will be obligated to notify parents if they learn that a female student is pregnant. Back in February, the board voted 7-1 to carry out the policy. Since the lone vote came from a student representative, the outcome clearly demonstrates the lack of concern for the confidentiality and privacy rights of students by the Howard County Board. According to, the student representative conducted a unanimous poll of students—they all opposed the policy saying, “It was unfair to students.” Trust is definitely an issue to these students who feel that the policy is a direct threat to their privacy.

Apart from concerned Howard County students, health experts are also questioning the tactics of the Howard County Board of Education. According to Ms. Magazine, Howard County’s health officer Peter Beilenson states that, “there’s no question the notification requirement will deter pregnant students from seeking medical care.” Ms. Magazine also mentions that, “Critics say the pregnancy notification policy violates student’s rights to privacy as well as state laws that allow minors access to pregnancy tests and contraception without involving parents.”

As a young woman who attended public school, I’m completely shocked and appalled by this blatant invasion of privacy. In reality, the vast majority of teen girls facing an unintended pregnancy turn to their parents. But, unfortunately, there are several reasons why a young girl may not go directly to her parents, including fear for her personal safety. Throughout our young lives, we are repeatedly told that if we feel unable to talk with our own parents, teachers, counselors, and sport coaches should be seen as a trusted alternative. Carrying out the Pregnancy Notification Policy will be detrimental to young woman who now feel they can no longer seek support at school. Knowing that her privacy will, without a doubt be invaded, this policy is likely to discourage her from seeking the counsel of an otherwise trusted staff member. As young women are already less likely to receive prenatal care, more likely to have a second trimester abortion, and more likely to deliver premature and underweight babies, this added deterrent may be very dangerous for teenagers in Howard County.

Confiding in healthcare workers and teachers in public schools was a reliable and frequently used source for many young females who had questions about pregnancy, sex, and contraceptives. Unfortunately, many young women may turn to crisis pregnancy centers, which at first glance, may appear to provide them with the guidance and support schools no longer will. Many students with fear of Howard County informing their parents may throw information provided from schools in the back. Students risk potentially receiving accurate information from schools and gaining misinformation from crisis pregnancy centers--may lead female students to choices they may not like, which can lead to future regret.

Regardless of their intentions, the Howard County School Board is putting students at risk for receiving inaccurate information about safe sex and abortion from sources like crisis pregnancy centers. Since MD Dept of Education has no clear mandate on parental notification—Howard County is able to do what they please and follow through with the policy.

Since many students use the school system as a safe haven—the pregnancy notification policy will outwardly discourage students to not come forward if they need guidance. This practice can lead to students obtaining misinformation from other unreliable sources such as crisis pregnancy centers.

What do you think of the actions of Howard County Public School System? Let us know.


R.T. Riveter said...

I would like to know if the staff is also required to notify the parents of the boys who helped conceive or if this blatant disregard for the constitution is only targeted to teenage girls? I can already hear the sexist excuses of boys being exempt b/c you can't 'prove' that they are the father- at least not until paternity test can be taken. Two Thumbs Down for HoCo!

A. Paul said...

As a resident of HoCo and a former student in its public schools, I'm both outraged at this decision, and scared for what it means for teens in my county. If these girls feel that they cannot turn to their teachers, counselors, or school nurses, what will they do? In addition to visiting CPCs, I fear they will take matters into their own hands- using pre-roe methods like wire hangers, or throwing themselves down a flight of stairs.

Trust must be established for teens to receive the kinds of reproductive health care they need- something this policy severely undermines. It's clear that the decision was not driven by good public health policy or concern for students, but by the county's concern that they will be liable in the event that a girl tells a school official about a pregnancy, and subsquently suffers harm.

However, I am glad that HoCo health official like Mr. Beilenson have stood up against this policy. As a strong supporter of County Executive Ken Ulman, I hope he follows suit in denouncing the decision.

r.t.- good point about the teenage fathers- good grounds for a 14th amendment equal protection lawsuit. If only I was already a lawyer... :[