The American Civil Liberties Union is considering legal action against the county school system if Northeast principal Joseph Carducci's policy of notifying parents when students are considering abortions is not ended.
"I think he is in a very dangerous game and walking afine line legally, and may have crossed that line," ACLU Executive Director Stuart Comstock-Gay said. "He may be forcing a lawsuit. This is not intended to be a threat, but I would want to talk to school officials to make sure that he stops."
School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton said he is consulting P. Tyson Bennett, legal counsel for the school system, on the issue.
"It's student rights and the law that have to prevail," Lorton said yesterday. "The Board of Education cannot have a policy that is not in compliance with the law.
"The reality is that all these years sinceRoe v. Wade (the Supreme Court case legalizing abortion), we never had a problem in the way we've handled the situation at school," he said. "Apparently, we are now faced with a question of interpretation and the latitude the principal has. My job is to make sure everyone isclear and all principals understand what we can and cannot do."
Carducci is struggling to revive school morale following protests against his dismissal of a popular athletic director and questions about his ability to separate his personal beliefs from the operation of the school.
"I said to my staff to report students to me who may be considering abortions," Carducci said. "I never said I wanted all students who are pregnant to report to me. If I knew about a student interested in an abortion and did not let the parent know, the school would be negligent.
"What the parent decides to do is up to them. Itseems very clear to me. We have an obligation to inform them. It's their obligation to do what they have to do. If they want to use school resources, they are welcome."
Pointing to a thick blue binder containing administrative regulations regarding confidential communication among staff, he said his position on abortion is based on the following school policy:
"All employees will report to the principal immediately any discussion with any student that indicates any behavior or threat of behavior that is potentially harmful or dangerous to self, others, or to the community."
His interpretation of the policy is being called into question by some parents.
"A lot of kids have problems who couldn't talk to their parents but could talk to teachers," said Linda Tetrault, a parent who has been outspoken about problems at Northeast. "Now they feel they have lost that confidentiality.
"I absolutely do not believe the abortion issue belongs in thepublic school system at all," Tetrault said. "The board needs to rewrite certain aspects of its policy. It's not a matter of being pro-life orpro-abortion. I would want to see the board make him change this."
Comstock-Gay said state law requiring doctors to notify parentswhen minors are seeking abortions has been challenged in the courts and rarely is enforced. He questioned the propriety of a principal enforcing such a policy.
"If I were a teacher there, I wouldn't do it," he said. "There are a lot of very good reasons for kids not to tell their parents. Those reasons have to do with abuse at home and incest. It is not his place to be deciding for all these kids."
Several school principals said students seeking help would be counseled and encouraged to talk to parents.
"Unless there is a clear and definite policy, I would look at trying to help the student the best I could," Chesapeake High Principal Harry Calender said. "I would encourage them to talk to their parents and counselor. I would not notify the parent without the student's knowledge."
Spokesman Ron Peiffer said the issue of parental notification in cases of abortion is not covered in the state Board of Education's bylaws.