After months of controversy, Northeast High School Principal Joseph Carducci has changed his policy for counseling pregnant students about abortion.
Although guidance counselors may encourage students toinvolve their parents in decisions about abortion, the shift no longer means a guaranteed phone call home or a trip to the principal's office for one-on-one counseling -- policies that drew fire from parents and students.
In a message in the school newsletter, Carducci notified parents of a change in a confidential communication policy that had only outlined what should be done when there is "potential harm to an individual or to society."
In September, Carducci said he interpreted the policy to mean that his staff should report students who may be considering abortions to him, saying he believed it was his obligation andthat the school would be negligent if it failed to do so.
Carducci wrote in the newsletter message that he had based his abortion policy on a school system regulation that deals with suicide, abuse, drugs, alcohol and other personal probles.
"(School system administrators) have recently determined that the policy is silent on the issue of abortion. They have determined that communications on issues of abortion and pregnancy will be dealt with as health issue," Carducci wrote.
He further adds that family involvement will be sought, but "if there is persistent student resistance to the involvement of parents, counselors may refer the student to the Health Department or to the family physician without parent notification."
Parents have demanded clarification of the school policy. Carducci said he received notification of the change about two weeks ago.
"When a child approaches a counselor with pregnancy concerns, the ultimate goal is to connect families and children together," said Movita E. Pickens, the school system's coordinator of guidance and counseling, who clarified the policy in a memo to school counselors three weeks ago. "If there is parent resistance, state bylaws say that minors may seek medical assistance for any health-related issues and one of those is pregnancy.
"I went out to talk to the (Northeast) faculty three weeks ago and went over my memo with them. I'm hoping that will end the whole controversy. A goal is to bring families together. It's a time when families need to support each other. Most rise to the occasion."
The American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file a lawsuit in September if Carducci's policy of notifying parents was not changed.
"I hope it clears up the matter," Northeast Parent Teacher Student Association President Carlene Heilman said. "I hope it's over. I would liketo see the school move forward."
But Carducci said the clarification states the school system's perspective, not a a change in his personal view.
"I am a high school principal enforcing school administration policy," Carducci said. "It has nothing to do with my feelings. I had a meeting with staff and asked if the matter was clear. We're focusing on education issues now."
Director of High School Shirley Hicks said she viewed his newsletter as positive.
"I think he has attempted to be very honest and up front," Hicks said. "He is sharing any additional information that he has."