Senate bills tackle oral care, school choice and court schools

Senate bills tackle oral care, school choice and court schools

(Calif.) Children with little access to dental care could receive free oral exams at school without active parental consent under a bill approved by the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

Lawmakers also passed along a bill that would extend authority for parents to request out of district transfers, and another bill that would expand coordination efforts in providing students a smooth transition from the juvenile court education system back into a traditional school.

Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and author of SB 379, said the legislation would lead to more students receiving oral health exams, and help the state use the data collected to better target services to the communities that need them most.

“Good oral health is critical to children’s ability to grow up healthy and succeed in school,” Atkins told the education committee. “Tooth decay is the most chronic yet preventable health care need among children. This gives us more data which will enable us as a state to look at the public health of our most disadvantaged, vulnerable kids at a very early age, because you see what happens when oral and dental health is not provided at an early age, and what it can do to our kids and their ability to learn.”

Under current law, schools that partner with non-profit or community dental groups to provide oral health assessments for students must receive active consent from parents–meaning that they must opt in. Atkins’ bill would change the requirement so that families would have to opt-out.

Although he voted to refer SB 379 to the Senate health committee, Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento did note concerns over the lack of listed boundaries of the oral health assessment included in the bill.

“I support what you’re trying to do, but I want to make sure as a fellow health professional that we have very clear boundaries in regard to what that consent means,” Pan said. “I don’t want to have a situation where a child comes home, let’s say with a small, unintentional mouth injury, and the parent says, ‘well I never consented to someone looking into my child’s mouth.’”

A separate bill, authored by Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, aims to continue the California District of Choice, a program allowing districts to accept student transfers from other districts. Representatives from districts in Ventura and Los Angeles commented in opposition of the bill, and said their some of schools had been hurt by dramatic shifts in demographics.

Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, expressed similar concerns–she said the District of Choice program has led to unintended consequences, including school closures in Pomona.

Members of the committee who voted in favor of the bill said the bill–SB 52–could be improved upon with more community outreach and negotiation.

A third measure that received committee support–SB 304–would require that any student detained in the criminal justice system for more than four consecutive schooldays receive an individualized transition plan that addresses academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and career needs.

The bill’s author, Sen. Anthony Portantino, D–La Cañada Flintridge, said almost 50,000 children in California attended a court school in a juvenile hall or camp in 2014. Research has shown that these students often face numerous barriers to reintegrating into traditional schools, and many do not graduate on time if at all.

“The transition from court school to a community school, when youth are released from detention, is a critical time when youth are vulnerable to dropping out of school altogether,” Portantino said. “The goal of the bill is to ensure continued and consistent educational opportunities for youth involved in the juvenile justice system and to support their highest possible educational attainment.”

Other key bills approved by the education committee include:

  • SB 233, which would permit a foster family agency, short-term residential treatment program staff or a caregiver access to a student’s educational records collected by the school; and
  • SB 346, which requires the governor to select the membership of the computer science strategic implementation advisory panel, and revises the timeline and process for the development and adoption of the advisory panel’s recommendations for a computer science implementation plan.

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