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CURRENT ISSUE:  September 20, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 16   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Top student, a San Bruno fire victim, mourned by classmates
U.S. ranks fifth in World Giving Index
Parents reminded of right to
‘opt out’ of school programs

The California Catholic bishops’ conference is alerting parents and guardians of public school children that they have the right to ‘opt out’ of many influences and classes that contradict their family’s values — from instruction in how to perform sexual acts to instruction in the ins and outs of witchcraft and the conjuring of spirits. Ninety percent of California Catholic school children attend public school.

The California Catholic Conference says that most parents don’t realize they need to specifically fill out a form every year for every child and for every activity they find objectionable.

“This is a way to empower parents to get involved,” Catholic Conference Executive Director Ned Dolejsi said. “From Catholic teaching, we understand that parents are the primary teachers of their children.”

At least 9 of every 10 Catholic children in California attend public schools, with the figures even higher for Latino families, which send about 3 percent of their children to parochial schools, according to national statistics. The Catholic Conference guidelines are written in Spanish and in English. (A complete list of guidelines for parents is available at cacatholic.org under the topic of education.)

California law, as decided by the state supreme court, permits school districts to dismiss students for confidential medical services, without parental notification and without logging any absence. Thus, parents have no right to know if their child from seventh grade on goes off campus for any “confidential medical services,” including AIDS testing or treatment, birth control, or abortion.

‘Stamina to navigate the system’

However, parents do have control over many other influences, if they have the stamina to navigate the system, the California Catholic Conference said in its back-to-school message.

Dolejsi said that when parents assert their rights, school districts have a tendency to respond and he said in his experience schools tend to treat respectfully children whose parents decide they will not participate in an activity or a class — rather than singling them out as different, a fear of every school child.

Among the stack of forms sent home at the beginning of the school year is one that is often difficult to decipher because of the “legalese” that tells parents and guardians that permission is assumed unless the parent opts out, the conference said. Parents must opt out using a specific form available from the school office and specifically listing topics and activities from which they want their child excluded, the Conference said.

In addition, all parents or guardians have the right to examine copies of all tests, questionnaires, or surveys that inquire about students’ or their parents’ personal beliefs.

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