LAS Superintendent Responds to Concerns Regarding Abortion Policy

At its June 10 meeting, the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education heard public comments from a resident who questioned whether the board concealed a change in policy. The resident said the change repealed a section of policy prohibiting any school employee or representative from referring or assisting a student in obtaining an abortion. During board comments at that meeting, Secretary Pat Nugent mentioned that school policies mirror state law and when state law changes, so too do the district policies. He noted that was the case here.

For greater clarity on the matter, Lowell’s First Look reached out to LAS Superintendent Nate Fowler for additional information on the policy change.

The policy in question referred to Michigan State law MCL 388.1766 which “pertained to a disciplinary policy for referral of pupil for abortion or assisting pupil in obtaining abortion.” That law was repealed last year, and the board approved having it retired from board policy on May 13 as is normal procedure for Michigan public school boards of education.

This law never addressed any sort of concealment on the part of schools toward parents or guardians. With the law being repealed, a school employee may now refer or assist a student with an abortion without being subject to disciplinary action, but it does not mean they may do so without the knowledge or consent of the parent.

Fowler explains that when board policies are being changed, the LAS Board of Education generally does a reading of the changes at their monthly workshops, which are separate from the monthly board meetings but still open to the public. Once the board has read and understands the policy changes being made, they are adopted at the regular board meeting, but not necessarily read aloud. This specific policy change was read at the March workshop meeting.

According to an audio recording of that meeting, board members were provided a large packet of policy changes with additions marked in green and deletions in red. The change to disciplinary policy regarding staff assistance for abortions was one of three changes being made because “there was a law that was repealed.” In the recording, it was mentioned that policy 2410 was in response to that law and would be rescinded. However, policy 2410 was not read aloud. It was also noted that the change in the law would “have an effect on some of our reproductive health and sex ed classes.”

“A lot of times, after we do the first reading,” Fowler says, “(for) the second reading of policies at the public meeting, we don’t go into it in a lot of depth and a lot of detail.”

Michigan public school boards are required to update their policies as the State dictates them.

“I think what the public commenter was saying was that you could have maintained this language that you would seek any disciplinary matters towards anybody who referred somebody to abortion,” Fowler says.

He acknowledges that this is a sensitive topic that would absolutely be dealt with alongside the parents and that he has never as an educator had to deal with this situation.

“I feel like if we have a student who is pregnant, we’re going to work with that student, we’re going to work with that student’s family to do everything we can to support that student,” Fowler says. “That’s what we’re about: supporting kids and communicating with families with all of these issues. We’ve said we want to involve families, we want to have good communication, we want to provide support, and I don’t know that having this board policy is going to change that.”

“Can you call a pregnancy a medical issue? Because it’s so much more than that. But anytime we’re dealing with anything that would involve a medical case or a medical issue, we’re going to involve the parents,” according to Fowler. “In my mind, that is how this is handled and how this will be treated.”

A lot of times, several policies that are related are grouped together and changed or repealed. Fowler says he believes this law was part of others that had to do with sex education. In Michigan, parents have the right to review materials or opt to have their child not attend sex education instruction. Repealed from the law was the right for a parent to sit in on the actual classes, a request that Fowler says he’s never had.

“Just thinking about my own kids and the class talking about really awkward and sensitive things with a teacher who’s worked really hard to build community to have those conversations, to bring a stranger into that, a strange adult into that class… I support that (being repealed).”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on June 27, 2024 to add details about the March work session.

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