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Board used 'thoughtful, open process' in birth control decision

GLENN MILLERBoth hometown newspapers characterized the recent decision on birth control at Century High School’s School-Based Health Center as the “Men against the Women.” While it is true we did vote that way, the characterization is far from the whole truth.

As you may know the office of Hillsboro School District Board of Directors is nonpartisan. We serve a very diverse set of patrons. We on the board also have diverse views, as you should expect. In fact, it is extremely rare that there is a 4/3 split vote. Despite the fact that there is a natural ideological bent to each of us, we work overtime to try and find middle ground in every decision.

If this was simply a matter of liberal versus conservative or men against the interest of women, the matter would have been settled months ago.

Instead, we engaged in a very thoughtful, reasoned and open process. We heard from hundreds of people, we took hours of open public testimony and spent hours debating and trying to reach that middle ground we all wanted.

Unfortunately, in the end, that just was not possible in this case.

Before you burn this paper and curse my name allow me to explain the sequence of events. Then you can decide if this is a process you want your government to follow or not, regardless of the outcome.

The clinic opened several years ago. I was not on the board at the time, but I can tell you that from the very beginning it was understood that the clinic could teach and advise students about contraceptives, but not prescribe or distribute them. Instead they would refer students to outside clinics for those prescriptions.

I personally believe the previous board erred by not including that understanding in contract language, but instead relied on an informal agreement. I also believe that if the clinic had approached the district with the intent to prescribe contraceptives, the clinic never would have been built.

Earlier this year Virginia Garcia approached us and asked us to put our guidance in writing. They asked for a “yes or a no” and stated that they would abide by that decision. They just wanted to know what to tell patients.

The hundreds of people who contacted us fell roughly into two equally passionate, and equally sized groups: “hands off our kids” or “they are going to have sex anyway so give them anything they want."

There truly was no middle ground expressed by the public. Nevertheless, school board members tried to find some common ground.

ORS 109.640 gives any minor of any age the right to seek out information and counseling. Further, minors who are 15 years of age may agree to treatment without their parents’ permission.

It is ironic that this flies in the face of another statute that defines the age a person can legally have sex as 18. ORS 109.650 gives the medical provider the right (not duty) to notify the parents (not seek permission). This is without the minor's permission to do so and the paragraph specifically states without recourse — meaning the minor has no legal avenue available to them to stop the physician.

We proposed draft language that tried to thread the needle between the two camps. We said that we would allow oral contraceptives, providing parents were notified. We directed staff on a 6-to-1 vote to develop language to that effect. Unfortunately, the clinic objected and the compromise fell apart leaving us with the binary “yes or no.” A “no” vote simply affirms the previous board’s decision. A “yes” moves significantly into controversial territory.

Given the fact that within a 10-minute walk of the school any student can purchase barrier methods of contraceptives and even the morning after pill without asking anyone — and that another clinic is

available off school grounds accessible by a bus ride — access is not an issue in my opinion. In fact mobility of our students is not an issue given the fact that the majority of students who go to

this clinic come from the other comprehensive high schools in our system.

Because of these facts I, and my colleagues made the choice not to drive a wedge between families and students and to stick to our core responsibility of education.

I fully realize that half of Hillsboro is upset and calling for our heads. The other half is calling for my other colleagues and friends' heads, too. Governing is hard. We are all volunteers who care very deeply for the future of our community. That is why we serve. I am proud of our record and stand by the decisions we make. We often disagree, but that process makes for a stronger decision.

Isn’t that what you want from your elected officials?

Glenn Miller is vice-chairman of the Hillsboro School Board.