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Sacagawea rep says St. Helens students went to sex-ed conference

Meeting attendees decry materials as pornographic, inappropriate


Students and educators from the St. Helens School District attended a controversial conference on teenage sexuality in Seaside earlier this year, a representative of the Sacagawea Health Center acknowledged Wednesday, Dec. 17, at a school board meeting.

Nicole Lawrence said nine high school students and 10 educators — not all of whom were district staff members —attended the Oregon Adolescent Sexuality Conference in April. The conference has attracted a flurry of negative attention since last month, when the Spotlight’s news partners at KOIN 6 News aired a report on graphic material taught and distributed at the event.

Mark Davalos, the district’s superintendent, had previously said he was unaware of any students from his school district attending the conference. He said Wednesday he later became aware that the Sacagawea Health Center, which operates out of Lewis & Clark Elementary School, spent grant money to send a group to this year’s conference.

Lawrence, who works as the school-based health center (SBHC) coordinator for the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County, stressed that the parents of the students were made aware of what sessions their children would be attending and gave permission for them to go to the conference.

“We prepared the students intensely for this experience, because we knew it was going to be intense but educational. All the research that we did was very positive,” Lawrence said. “We had information that went home to their parents, and we encouraged them to talk to their parents about what they would be learning.”

Board member grills coordinator

Pressed by board Vice Chairman Marshall Porter, however, Lawrence admitted she was not absolutely certain none of the students sent to the conference by Sacagawea Health Center had attended a particularly controversial presentation described at the meeting as pornographic.

“I don’t think any of the students went to that particular session,” she said.

Porter wasn’t satisfied.

“As a health care provider, you guys are required to also report when things of a sexual nature are presented to a child that’s inadequate or inappropriate to that child,” Porter said. “If somebody’s presenting porn to a child, you are to report that. Is that not true?”

“Well, yes,” Lawrence responded. “But none of our health care professionals were in that session. No student was in that session — I mean, that’s one particular session that I’m aware of.”

“You took those students with a responsibility to the parents, as well as to those students, to know,” Porter shot back. “To say you don’t know tells me that you weren’t watching and monitoring the students at the conference and what materials they were being exposed to.”

Gordon Jarman, the board’s chairman, cut Porter off.

“This is not a place to chastise employees or people that are running a service to this district,” Jarman said.

Davalos and Jarman affirmed that the school district is not participating in any grant program associated with the sexuality conference at this time.

Lawrence said multiple times that no one from the Sacagawea group was “blown away” by the content they came across at the conference. She also said all of the students who went this year from Sacagawea had specifically asked to attend.

Materials distributed at the conference that have been obtained by the Spotlight and KOIN 6 News include pamphlets with such titles as “How to Get Your Groove On ... Fluid Free” and “Dry Humping Saves Lives.”

Lawrence said no materials from the conference were taken back to Sacagawea Health Center.

Although she defended the educational value of the trip and said feedback from all the participants was “positive,” Lawrence also apologized to the school board for not briefing board members sooner on the trip.

“We want to be open and honest about everything, and I apologize if it came across that we weren’t being open and honest,” she said. “I think we pride ourselves on being an open book, and I really apologize that it came across that way.”

Attendees unhappy with materials

A number of meeting attendees spoke in opposition to the conference and expressed concern about the presence of St. Helens students there.

“The materials were extremely graphic,” said Chris Gibson.

Esther Cromwell, an Astoria resident who said she drove from the Oregon Coast to attend Wednesday’s meeting, said she was “very, very shocked” by what she saw at the conference in April.

“I was one of the witness with five Hispanic ladies to see this was true,” she said. “And we were very shocked, and I have a lot of proof that, yeah, it was porno.”

Lisa Maloney, who sits on the board of directors for the neighboring Scappoose School District, warned that SBHCs can operate without the direct oversight of their host school district.

“We want our schools to be strong and our kids to be educated,” she said, drawing a comparison between herself and her St. Helens counterparts. “We’re not here as health workers or figuring out what goes on with health. But when we have a school-based health center in our district, we and you do not have control over what goes on there.”

The Scappoose School District and Public Health Foundation are currently exploring opening a SBHC in Scappoose.

Lawrence, who is also involved in the Scappoose SBHC planning effort, defended the centers in her presentation to the St. Helens school board. She compared Sacagawea to a pediatrician’s office, but said it does more to encourage parent involvement in students’ health than a typical doctor would.

“We really strive to involve parents in every conversation, every visit that we have,” she said. “That’s really important, and I want to point that out.”

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