The Questa Independent School District (QISD) August 16 board meeting hosted a full room of community members, as concerned residents spoke up about a new health clinic that’s proposed to set up shop at the Questa Junior/Senior High School.
Sunrise Clinics is a healthcare company emphasizing services for rural communities with offices throughout northern New Mexico in Santa Rosa, Tucumcari, Las Vegas, and Raton. The QISD Board meeting agenda contained an action item for a discussion and/or a decision regarding a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sunrise Clinics.
Members of political activist group known as Concerned Women for America for New Mexico (CWANM), the state branch of the national Concerned Women for America, was in attendance at the meeting specifically to speak up against the Memorandum of Understanding, explaining their concerns over gender-affirming healthcare at so-called “school-based health centers” in the public comment period. The director of the CWANM, Nickie McCarty, gave a presentation to lay out her organization’s concerns.
“We’re looking at school-based health centers, and on the surface they sound great,” said McCarty. “Who doesn’t want healthcare for our kids, but what we don’t want is healthcare for our kids that we don’t know about… There are so many things underlying and present at these school-based health centers that they’re just swarming our kids with a swath of services and offering anything and everything to our children, and we’re here today because we want to protect our children.”
McCarty and the other CWANM members expressed dismay over parents not being more involved in the realities of student healthcare at school sites and cited New Mexico’s Reproductive & Gender-affirming Health Care Freedom Act (HB 7) and its protections for gender-affirming healthcare as a part of their concerns. While the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives parents “the right to inspect and review the student’s education records maintained by the school,” the federal law also states that schools can disclose student records without consent to particular parties under particular conditions, including “appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies.”
HB 7 was passed earlier this year with the intent to protect access to healthcare for those seeking reproductive or gender-affirming healthcare and imposing penalties on violations of the law. HB 7 describes gender-affirming healthcare as “psychological, behavioral, surgical, pharmaceutical and medical care, services and supplies provided to support a person’s gender identity.” HB 7 also clearly states that discrimination “against a person based on that person’s use of or refusal to use reproductive healthcare or gender-affirming healthcare services” shall be a violation of the law.
“Nothing in the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Freedom Act shall be construed to require a healthcare provider or entity to provide care: (1) that the healthcare provider or entity does not otherwise provide or have a duty to provide under state or federal law; (2) when the provision of service is against the medical judgment of the treating healthcare provider while acting within the standard of care (New Mexico Legislature, Reproductive & Gender-affirming Health Care Freedom Act (page 3). Link here: https://tinyurl.com/4yt6brr8
“Stop the confusion, protect our children,” was the common slogan repeated by the CWANM members at the meeting in reference to gender-affirming healthcare.
“My number one priority is the mental health part of it and the counseling part of it,” said McCarty. “The CWANM believe that children who struggle with identity should be protected from harmful gender reassignment medical practices causing serious health risks, irreversible damage, and increasing regret. This is one of our core values [as well as] family. To me, all of this is leaving family out, leaving parents out, and I feel like we need to… revisit the school-based health centers.”
McCarty cited HB 7 as “a destructive bill that leaves an open door for minors on school grounds to receive all of these medical procedures without parent notification or approval.”
There is nothing about school-based health centers or parental rights in education in the text of HB 7.
Much of the concern over parental rights in education comes from an official trainer with the New Mexico School Board Association, Andrew Sanchez, who stated specifically at the NMSBA annual convention last year, “parents do not have a fundamental right to tell you how public school teaches their child.”
“I was there for that conference at the School Board Association where [Sanchez said that],” said QISD Board President Jason Rael. “I was pretty shocked.”
“Conversations from the high school to the elementary school are pretty out there,” said QISD Superintendent John Maldonado regarding sexual conversations he has overheard among students. “These are conversations that are real and they’re conversations that happen on a day-to-day [basis] no matter – with a [SBHC] or without a [SBHC]. These are conversations that are happening among our students, so working with Sunrise, we’ve asked for them to give you guys [the board] and us [the administration] full parental consent no matter what the process is.”
In the discussion on the action item concerning the Sunrise MOU, a representative from Sunrise Clinics, Timothy Dodge, stood up to answer concerns. There was vibrant back and forth between Superintendent Maldonado and the board over the mental health needs of students versus the importance of parental rights.
Dodge read an email from Sunrise Clinics CEO Dr. Randall Brown out loud to the boardroom: “make sure they understand that Sunrise Clinics is not going to do anything for sex orientation.”
Dodge continued by stating to the crowd, “we’re going to respect parents’ rights and we’re going to respect the autonomy of local government,” as he gestured toward the Board. “We’re not gonna try and tell this school board or any school board throughout the state what their beliefs should be.”
Board Member Juan Cisneros questioned Dodge on potential conflicts between Sunrise Clinics’ stated intentions to respect local autonomy and the need to follow state law and provide proper care for students.
“Once you’re in and the MOU is signed and I know you’re probably aware of HB 7 and SB 397 and SB 13 and HB 207… how do you go against the law?” Cisernos asked Dodge.
“How do we go against the law,” Dodge repeated back in confusion.
“Yeah, let’s say if we don’t want this here but then you end up with a child that ends up in your care, and you say you’re not about that, the law says you’re supposed to provide that, how do you go against that,” explained Cisneros.
“If you don’t get the parental consent, we’re not gonna see them,” said Dodge.
“But that is not what the law in New Mexico is,” said Cisneros.
“That’s our position,” said Dodge.
“I don’t believe so,” continued Cisneros. “I think, once it’s in the door you have to follow the law, so the only way to not abide by it is to not let it in your [school].”
“That would be even with our school nurse,” said Superintendent Maldonado.
“Exactly,” said Cisnernos. “We already have the obstacles in place.”
“So that’s where, as a local board,” continued Superintendent Maldonado, “that consent has to be signed and done and we’ve had that discussion back and forth,” as Maldonado gestured to Dodge. [If] no consent is signed, that student is not seen.”
Board Member Cisneros’ main concern was the new state law regarding gender-affirming healthcare taking precedence over local autonomy and parents’ rights. Superintendent Maldonado was reassuring the board that parents’ rights would not be overlooked.
The Sunrise MOU ended up being tabled for further discussion.
A recording of the August 16 QISD Board meeting is available at the Questa del Rio News Facebook page at the following web address: https://www.facebook.com/QuestaNews/videos/831361908622836/.
It may be worth noting that the Sunrise Clinic’s representative, Tim Dodge, was the subject of an article in the Deming Headlight in January of this year. That article reported on Dodge’s termination from his position as Ruidoso Village Manager due to “an investigation by an outside agency into allegations of stalking by a village employee.” Dodge’s termination was determined by a unanimous vote by the Ruidoso Village Council.