According to the Herald Tribune
Abortion opponents who regularly picket in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sarasota know some of the schedules there pretty well.
More than anything, they say, abortions are normally scheduled for Friday mornings, and that is when the picketers and their signs are most numerous.
So there was probably no chance that the arrival of a white van with a distinctly unexpected logo would go unnoticed.
The markings identified the van as belonging to the Sarasota County School District. Inside were a driver and two female passengers, and at least one looked to be of high school age.
As is common even when ordinary vehicles enter the Planned Parenthood parking lot, some of the protesters took video of the van. Gene Tischer, one of the regular anti-Planned Parenthood guys there, sent that video to some members of the School Board and other school officials. He attached a list of pointed questions.
“1. Under what authority, pursuant to which specific Sarasota County School Board policy, does a Sarasota County school van deliver young girls to PP during normal school day hours?
“2. Are the Board members and administration aware that abortions are performed at this time and place every Friday?
“3. Were taxpayer funds used to provide this transportation and escort service? If so, based on staff time, vehicle usage and distance traveled, approximately how much did this trip cost us taxpayers?
“4. How many similar trips have school vans/buses made to PP this calendar year?
“5. When may I expect written responses to the questions posed above?”
Valid questions, I thought. And school officials got back to us quickly after I asked about the same things.
Right off the bat they said there had been a school system policy violation, and that Riverview High Principal Linda Nook has received a reprimand for it. And yes, a female student was in that van.
But the student wasn’t there for an abortion. Nor was it a career day field trip or the like, in case that sort of thing had also crossed any protester’s mind.
The student had talked to a teacher and was in need of a pregnancy test and tests for a sexually transmitted disease, a schools’ spokesman told me.
“The testing services the student needed were available through the Health Department, but the student had personal reasons for wanting to have the tests done elsewhere,” the spokesman said.
“In response to the student’s concerns, the two staff members decided to take her to Planned Parenthood for the tests instead of the Health Department,” and they had parental permission to do so, he said.
As it turned out, the student was not able to get the tests at Planned Parenthood that morning. The school district did not say why, but said, “No tests or procedures were performed.” The student later went to get tests done without further school involvement.
She reported that she was not pregnant and that the disease tests were negative, the spokesman said.
But that well-intentioned attempt by school officials was a violation of district policy, said Superintendent Lori White.
“The staff members should have referred the issue to a school social worker, who would have assessed the situation and would have taken the student to the Sarasota County Health Department if necessary,” White said in a statement. “If they have parent permission, school social workers are authorized to transport students to access public health services, but not to initiate services from a private provider.”
After district administrators learned about the visit, “the principal received a reprimand from the executive director of high schools,” White said.
The principal was not in the van, but an assistant principal and teacher who acted with the approval of the principal each received a letter of instruction that explained the proper procedure. Such letters are not considered a disciplinary action.
Tischer, who had attached the questions to the video, said none of the protesters outside Planned Parenthood had assumed school employees were taking students to get abortions. But as it was a Friday morning, they did wonder. They also thought it would be an inappropriate visit for just about any other purpose, especially if a student was driven in a school van to get birth control.
Tischer said it seemed important to ask what business any school employee and vehicle had going there during school hours, and how many other times such trips have been made there.
That last question got a simple answer from White.