Thursday, October 8, 2009

STD testing and the DoE

There's an "education and testing" program for sexually transmitted diseases coming to 100 high schools citywide this year set up by the NYC Department of Health and the DoE. Apparently they hit 110 schools last year.

High school teachers were told to distribute letters addressed to Parents and Guardians to their students. These letters contained information about the program and what looked like a permission slip, but really wasn't. I wouldn't want to bet how many of these letters actually made it home. Quite a few kids refused to take them from me in the first place, and some left them under the seats on the way out.

The "permission" slip is actually the reverse of permission:

It reminds me of the Patriot Act, where if parents do not want military recruiters hounding their kids to join the army, they have to send in a form to opt out. Most don't know about that stipulation, which is what the government wanted when it designed that law: with no draft, they have to look for other ways to get young people signing up for wars. Same thing here. If parents don't know about important issues, privacy included, the government can go about their business with their kids.

Knowing that most of these letters were not going to reach the parents of my students, I was concerned that the students would be tested without parental knowledge or consent. It also worried me that the letter didn't specify the kind of test (blood or urine) the kids would be getting, seemingly automatically, if they didn't return the "do not educate or test" order. The letter did say the results of any testing would be strictly confidential and that only the student can legally access this information. Some of us really doubt whether anything on the DoE computers can ever be strictly confidential.

I called the office that put this letter out and got from them the following information:
It is a urine test, not a blood test.

NYS state law says that children age 13 and older can get tested for STDs without parent consent.

If the child attends the informational part of the program, he or she will not be forced into taking the test. The testing is still optional and they wouldn't force test.

That the parent permission slip is only a "courtesy," and it's not needed at all.
None of this information was provided in the letter. Nor was it provided to teachers responsible for handing these out so they could answer questions about the protocol.

When I asked why they couldn't send us all an email about it, the response was disheartening. They would speak to the teachers when they see them, but they couldn't contact the teachers personally. That's an asinine response right there. Whenever the chancellor wants to pat himself on the back, he sends an email out to every educator in the system through DoE email. You just press Send.

What I did find on NYS law is this:
Can a minor (age less than 18 years) consent to his or her own HIV test?
In New York State the capacity to consent to an HIV test (either confidential or anonymous) is determined without regard to age. Informed consent for minors varies, depending upon the minor's situation.
Capacity to Consent is Required and is Not Based on Age Alone
The capacity to consent is defined in the Public Health Law as the: "ability, determined without regard to the individual's age, to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of a proposed health care service, treatment, or procedure, or of a proposed disclosure of confidential HIV related information, as the case may be, and to make an informed decision concerning the service, treatment or disclosure." (Public Health Law Section 2780.5).
Whenever the DoE looks as if it bungles something, one has to suspect whether these are errors in judgment and/or procedure, or if they are really trying to corral an unsuspecting population into being tested en masse.

Because if they are really trying to be on the level, someone could have taken the trouble to explain the NYS law regarding the testing of minors and privacy. They might have also consider doing away with that meaningless "permission" slip, since it's the student himself who makes the decision on whether he's going to get himself tested.

What I didn't ask and perhaps should have is for a list of schools that are getting this program. Is it truly a citywide program or in just particular schools, if you know what I mean.

By the way, one has every reason to suspect the DoE of mismanaging this program or worse. An easy Google search found two instances of local school systems imposing STD testing on minors. There was a case of forced STD testing back in 2003 that upset the NYCLU enough to file a lawsuit against the city. Last summer parents in Port Chester, NY, some parents felt a similar program was intrusive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I dont think you are really being fair. The letter seems reasonable and not unlike the note parents get regarding condom distribtution in the schools. SO many high schools students are in need of these valuable services and dont have access to care. Why not offer it to them when it is their right to have it?