The ‘Ins’ and ‘Outs’ of Private School Lobbying

February has come to be my least favorite month of the year. This disposition has nothing to do with the weather, the end of the professional football season, the prevalence of colds and flu – the odds of contracting influenza during the month of February are at least twice that of any other month – or the increasingly insistent voice in my head that keeps pestering me to organize my tax return information. It’s really none of that. What puts me off about February is that it’s the month in which the California Legislature places the annual deadline date for the introduction of new bills. This year, that ominous date fell on February 21.

If you were given advance warning that you were in the path of tsunami, you’d head for the hills.  As a registered lobbyist who looks after the common interests of California’s broadly inclusive private school community, I don’t have that option.  As the flood of new legislation nears, I must strap on my life vest, dust off my surf board, and go with the flow.  In the final few days leading to the deadline date, the number of newly introduced measures will increase exponentially, climaxing with a torrent of close to 750 bills making their appearance on the final day, alone.

I’ll grant that the analogy is somewhat extreme.  Yet, while the “avalanche” of new bills hardly exposes me to mortal danger, February remains a fraught time of year marked by cognitive overload and mounting anxiety.  Every new piece of legislation must be viewed.  As Forrest Gump quipped of a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.  Some new bills may open the door to opportunity, while others could introduce new risks and challenges, even existential threats to the enterprise of K-12 private education. One simply doesn’t know until one plows through the mass of content.

Fortunately, I can rely upon some sophisticated software to help sift my way through this mountain of material.  Not only do I run scans that seek out obvious terms such as ‘private school’, I can also zero in on bills that modify specific sections of existing law. I can, for example, identify the section of the California Health and Safety Code containing the laws relating to immunizations and school admissions, and the software will flag any newly-introduced bill that would modify the related existing law.

Then what?  Oftentimes, it comes down to the deceptively simple matter of either wishing private schools to be written into a proposed piece of legislation, or wanting them written out.  Why and how would one wish for private schools to be written into a new law?  Here’s an example.

AB 1933 is a new bill authored by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D. – San Diego).  By way of background, current law requires a pupil who passes out or faints while participating in or immediately following an athletic activity to be removed from such participation, and permits athletic trainers or other authorized persons to remove pupils who exhibit any of the other symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest.  Once they are so removed, such pupils are not permitted to engage in an athletic activity until they have been evaluated and cleared by a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant.  AB 1933 would permit a pupil who requires such an evaluation and clearance to resume participation in athletic activity (or his/her parents or guardians) to request the administration of an electrocardiogram (ECG).

What might happen if an ECG administered under the circumstances described above revealed certain abnormalities?  Could pupils sue the schools in which the athletic activities took place, alleging negligence (or other claims asserting that a school was in some way responsible for injuring the pupil)?  Apparently, the bill’s author believes that such a possibility is real enough to warrant inclusion of language that indemnifies schools and other related entities against such claims.  Here’s the proposed text:

“This paragraph does not create a cause of action or liability, or a standard of care, obligation, or duty that provides a basis for a cause of action or liability, against a health care professional, the California Interscholastic Federation, a school district, or a school district officer or employee for the injury or death of a pupil participating in, or practicing for, an athletic activity that is sponsored or sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation, a school district, or a school based on, or in connection with, the administration or interpretation of, or reliance on, an ECG.”

See anything missing?  What about private schools, and private school employees?  Because the law governing the removal of students from participation in athletic activities is applicable to private schools, private schools and private school employees should, surely, be entitled to indemnification.

As an example of a bill proposing a new law from which private schools would wish to be removed, consider AB 1586, authored by Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D. San Jose), which would have prohibited a pupil in any California private or public school from performing animal dissection. California’s private school community took exception to this measure owing to the belief that, had the bill become law, the state would have subjected private schools to unreasonable regulation by determining which instructional methods private schools are, and are not permitted to employ.  This view found support in the Assembly Education Committee’s analysis of the bill, where the committee’s chief consultant wrote:

“This bill’s requirements extend to private schools, in effect setting instructional policy on schools outside of the public school system. This represents a departure from traditional practice and may set a significant precedent.”

Private schools may certainly decide against the use of animal dissection as a component of science instruction, but the call should be theirs, rather than dictated by the state.  Happily, AB 1586 failed to advance.

This column was written several days before the deadline date for the introduction of new state legislation for the current year.  What will the torrent of newly proposed laws turn up this time around?  Stay tuned!

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