The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (PYLUSD) Board of Education approved a notification ordinance that requires all school and non-school counselors to notify parents of information shared by students in counseling if there is “clear and present danger.” This policy was discussed and approved in a 3-2 vote during a meeting on Oct. 10.
This decision followed a debate regarding the policy’s potential to violate privacy and out LGBTQ+ students.
Policy 6164.3, proposed by Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss, claims to utilize increased modes of communication to prevent potential cases where a student may pose a threat to the health, safety or well-being of themselves or others. The policy specifically requires all counselors in the district to notify parents within 24 hours if there is reasonable cause to believe that the notification may help avoid imminent harm.
This is part of a coexisting effort to “integrate parent(s)/guardian(s) into the decision-making process for mental health and social-emotional issues of their children arising at school at the earliest possible time,” according to Policy 6164.3.
The policy cites how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the teen mental health crisis and exposed the need for increased parental involvement in the spirit of student welfare. During the Oct. 10 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Cherniss emphasized the importance of this involvement.
“Parents are our partners,” Cherniss said. “It’s our responsibility to do whatever we can to strengthen the relationship between staff and parents.”
The PYLUSD policy of notifying parents acts in accordance with California Education Code 49602. The code stipulates that counselors must not disclose any personal information a student shares while receiving counseling, except in cases where there is standing to “avert a clear and present danger” or when a student indicates that a crime may be committed. Cherniss stated that Policy 6164.3 puts a formal timeframe on what is already mentioned in this code.
Policy recommendations from the California Department of Education also emphasize a close relationship between schools, parents and students for students’ well-being. The Student Mental Health Policy Work Group (SMHPW) encourages a close working relationship in school and local communities.
According to the SMHPW, “Schools and districts are encouraged to build collaborative partnerships with families and communities to address the mental health needs of students as a key strategy in the continuous improvement process.”
However, PYLUSD students and parents expressed concern over the notification policy because of its vague wording and potential impacts for LGBTQ+ students. The PYLUSD policy follows a series of similar ordinances from other California school boards regarding LGBTQ+ student and parental notification regulations. Orange Unified School District most recently passed a gender-oriented policy that requires parental notification if a student chooses to identify as a name, gender or pronoun that is different from what they were assigned at birth, according to CBS News.
Community members expressed concerns at the PYLUSD board meeting over the possibility of staff members outing students to parents without consent.
Former Valencia High School parent Mary Botz expanded on the need for trust between students, especially LGBTQ+ students, and counselors during the meeting.
“My daughter came out to her brother a year before she talked to us, and it wasn’t because she didn’t think that we would accept her as queer. It was because no matter what it was a trial for her,” Botz said. “I’m very concerned that this is just putting barriers in for kids who have trust in their teachers and that they are going to be outed when they are just not quite ready to let their parents know.”
PYLUSD board members responded by reaffirming their policy’s methods of case-by-case judgment.
“If a student is gay, and they’re not showing that there are signs of an issue, that’s a different conversation,” Trustee Todd Frazier said. “This all comes back to behavioral change. If there’s something markedly different, there’s going to be a lot of situational-based decisions that have to be made.”
Superintendent Cherniss affirmed during the Oct. 10 meeting that the nature of the policy is to support broader mental health awareness.
“This isn’t a gender notification policy, it’s a parental notification policy,” Cherniss said.
PYLUSD Trustees Carrie Buck and Marilyn Anderson voted against the notification policy due to similar concerns over implications for LGBTQ+ students. According to the OC Register, Trustees Buck and Anderson moved to request a second board reading in November; however this was ultimately rejected along with suggestions to include a clause specifically preventing the outing of LGBTQ+ students.
“I just feel that in other districts there are similar policies that are used against the LGBTQ+ community,” Student Board Member Aidan Mintzer said at the meeting. “We need to further differentiate this policy so it can’t be used against these students in the same way.”
OC school districts progressed with mixed reactions as Capistrano Unified School District rejected a modification to its pre-existing parental notification policy in a 2-5 vote on Oct. 19. Like PYLUSD, the proposed policy did not specifically mention gender orientation.
Karen Wang is a City News Intern for the fall 2023 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.