Minors on Campus

February
2006
Mark Wade Lieu, Chair

While the target population for community colleges is adults 18 and over, the fact is that more and more minors, those under the age of 18, are appearing on our campuses. With this increase in minors on campus, colleges must face an important reality: course content, pedagogy, legal responsibility, and safety provisions for minors will be impacted in an environment that normally caters to adults.

Who are the minors that you see on campus? Some are often invisible as they blend in with recent high school graduates: students attending Middle College High School and concurrently enrolled high school students. Others are significantly younger and include children participating in organized activities such as a summer program or sports activities at a college. Students who are home-schooled are admitted to colleges throughout the state to pursue higher level coursework or alternative classes. In addition, especially gifted students may be enrolled in college courses even as middle-school students. Finally, there are the children who come with their parents, our students, when a babysitter falls through or when the local school district has a holiday that the college does not.

The Education Code has numerous provisions which address the participation of minors on campus.

Section 76001 authorizes boards to admit "special" students, such as those deemed highly gifted. Section 76002 authorizes admittance of high school students. Section 48800 authorizes boards to allow elementary and secondary school students to take courses at community colleges. What the education code does not address are the issues that arise when minor children are put into an environment that is by and large geared towards adults.

The first issue that arises for any teacher is one of course content, particularly in humanities and social science courses. If you have a fourteen-year-old in your class, how does that impact your comfort in discussing the sexual themes in a novel or aberrant psychology? What about a theater course that involves attendance at plays with adult themes? In small group discussions, how will adults feel discussing such topics with a child?

The second issue is one of pedagogy. If a student is enrolled in a college course, one assumes a level of ability needed to handle writing and reading assignments. However, what about other abilities that even adult students seek to develop such as critical thinking? An instructor may also wonder what his/her relationship is to the child's parents. If parents request it, is an instructor obligated to discuss a minor student's progress and grades with the parents? Does an instructor have the right to keep classroom conversations and discussions private from the parents?

The third issue is one of legal responsibility. When a minor child is in a classroom, is the teacher acting in loco parentis? What is the teacher's responsibility regarding the people a minor interacts with in the classroom? Is a community college faculty member equipped (as required) to report suspected child abuse, as are K-12 teachers? and what responsibility do the teacher and the college have once the student leaves the classroom to wait alone at the bus stop for pick up?

The final issue is one of safety. Many local boards have policies that preclude students from bringing their children into the classroom. This is based on the understandable fear that a student who is involved in the work in a class may not be able to keep a constant eye on his/her child. however, most teachers are hard-pressed to force a student to leave because she couldn't get childcare that day for her toddler in tow. These are major questions that the educational Policies committee is exploring as it develops a paper on the topic of minors on community college campuses. The committee welcomes your input into discussion of this topic and invites you to a breakout at the spring Plenary session to further explore the issues that our paper must cover. Local and general concerns can also be shared with the committee through me at mlieu [at] ohlone.edu.

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