The American Red Cross' desire to keep a pure blood supply may be at odds with Utah's sex ed laws.
Orem resident Diane Ogborn told the State Board of Education Wednesday that American Red Cross' high school blood drives exposed students to explicit language regarding sex acts.
Utah law on human sexuality instruction in schools requires parents give permission before information is given to students. "I believe (the Red Cross forms are) in violation of Utah state law," Ogborn said. She wants the state school board to place a moratorium on school blood drives until procedures are put in place to protect student and parent rights.
There's not much the Red Cross can do to edit the language Ogborn complains about, said Julia Wulf, acting chief executive officer of the Lewis and Clark Blood Region, which includes the Utah Blood Services Division. The document was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which requires it be given to potential blood donors.
"The reason we're doing this is because our priority when we're collecting blood is the safety of the blood supply. It's all tested, but we have several layers of safety. We check to see if you are an eligible donor. We ask you several questions to protect you as the donor and to protect the recipient," Wulf said. "There are lots of layers in place."
There's also a fundamental legal question in play: Does the agency's packet really count as "instruction" as regulated by Utah law? Or is it simply information that would not fall under the same legal category?
The questions are raised by the Red Cross and Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation for the State Office of Education.
But Lear doesn't want to split hairs.
"(Ogborn's) concern is a legitimate one," she said. "We'll address it."
Sex education has been a hot topic at the Legislature, which has placed several restrictions on instruction, including parental permission requirements, in hopes of preserving parental rights.
Blood donations, however, were not part of the debate.
The American Red Cross holds blood drives in about three-fourths of Utah high schools.
"We have about 75 high schools that hold them, some one a year and some up to three a year," said Utah Blood Services spokeswoman Judy Christensen. "These drives are very important to us because when people make a first donation, they become lifelong donors. So we try to get high school and college students involved."
During blood drives in high schools, only students who are 17 or older can donate. And 17-year-olds need permission from their parents to participate.
But Ogborn's concern is this: Potential donors get packets that include one page, "What You Must Know," that provides information, including short descriptions of various types of sexual contact. She says the information is viewed by students before parents have a chance to review it and give the OK.
Wulf says the wording on the form doesn't meet the state's additional requirements for parental consent. She says she's talked with state school officials on the matter.
"We don't need permission because we're not educating, we're providing a description," Wulf said. "We have to get consent for donors to donate blood (if they're 17). We send a packet home that students give to parents."
The matter is sensitive for parental rights and maintaining an adequate blood supply.
"Those students are the donors of the future. We want them to, as early as possible, get into the habit of donating blood," Wulf said. "We need to constantly replenish the blood donor pool. People drop out, get deferred, their health status changes. We need new people going into our donor base. Students are an important part of that."
Lear indicated a resolution could be at hand. And barring blood drives isn't part of it.
"It seems like it would be better for schools to notify parents that participation in the blood drive will involve providing information to students that might be sensitive about sexual issues," Lear said. Parents could then decide whether to give permission for their student to receive that information.
The state education office could urge school districts to do that, or create a new rule, Lear said."I think we're more careful now than we were six or eight years ago . . . (as) parents' sensitivity to such concerns has increased," Lear said. "I don't think we're encouraging districts to be more casual or cavalier; we're encouraging greater caution."