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Do you condone condoms at school?

Tigard-Tualatin School District wrestles with the issue at student health center

Just say no.

That's the message parents and community members gave to school district officials Saturday about allowing contraceptives in the district's on-campus health clinic.

The TTSD Health Center Advisory Board is holding two meetings regarding offering contraceptives at the school-based health center. The discussion may lead to a recommendation of action to the full TTSD School Board.

The clinic is open to all students living in the Tigard-Tualatin School District and is self-supported financially through payment of sliding scale fees, private health insurance and the Oregon Health Plan.

The district's first public meeting on Saturday brought a wide variety of viewpoints on the controversial issue, but the majority of parents said they were against the idea of allowing students access to birth control on school grounds.

'This is an educational campus and the health clinic is on the campus, so my feeling is that contraceptives, if they were distributed, would give the stamp of approval and invitation to kids that this is something that we are promoting,' said Randy Wilder, a parent of a Tigard senior. 'If we are going to teach abstinence as the safest thing to do, then we should stand behind that by our actions.'

A second meeting on the topic is scheduled for tonight (Thursday) at Tigard High School.

If approved, a nurse practitioner at the health center would be able to write prescriptions for birth control or dispense condoms to Tigard-Tualatin students and staff that request it.

'It's important to understand, we are not talking about a vending machine approach,' said Jeff Kallevig, a member of the health center's advisory board and pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tigard. 'It would still be managed and maintained and controlled by medical staff.'

Under state law, students age 15 or older can receive medical care or treatment without parental permission.

Canby said no in October

When the clinic opened four years ago, the district opted not to supply contraceptives, but said it would revisit the subject after the health center had gotten off its feet.

If approved, Tigard-Tualatin would become the first school-based health center in Washington County to dispense contraceptives.

But Tigard-Tualatin isn't alone in the discussion.

All the high school health centers in Portland Public Schools provide contraceptives, as does Willamina High School health center in Yamhill County and Milwaukie High School health center when it opens later this year.

In October the Canby School District opted not to allow contraceptives at its health center at Canby High School.

'This is another service that we can provide if the community wants it, or not if it doesn't,' said Kathy Belden, a spokeswoman for the health center who attended Saturday's meeting. 'The health center does so much for so many kids without insurance and underinsured kids. My biggest fear is that this will overshadow all the good that it does. This is an emotional issue, but at the heart of it, the School Based Health Center does really help a lot of kids.'

School Board member Barry Albertson said that he will remain neutral on the issue and wait to see what the community says - including students - before making a decision.

'What I want to do is hear from the community, particularly at our next meeting and with the online survey. Once we get that information, if it comes to our side of the court, then we will deal with it,' he said.

274 teen pregnancies in two years

One of three such health clinics in Washington County, the clinic sees hundreds of students every year and provides several services including diagnosing and treating minor illnesses and infections, offering health screenings, immunizations, physical examinations, mental health assessments, counseling and family support and providing substance abuse assessments.

Students can also receive reproductive health exams, pregnancy and HIV tests and counseling, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections at the health center, which are requirements for all state school-based health centers.

Proponents of offering contraceptives say that the health center would help keep students safe by promoting safe sexual practices.

According to the most recent data available, Washington County recorded a total of 274 teen pregnancies in the Tigard and Tualatin areas between 2007 and 2009.

About half of all eighth-graders in Washington County reported being sexually active in 2007 and 2008, the county reported. During that same period, 74 percent of 11th-graders reported being sexually active.

The center currently refers students to other clinics for birth control prescriptions.

'If this were the only opportunity for youth to get contraceptives or education, then I would say OK,' Wilder said, 'Then we need to revisit this with that criteria, but it's not. They are readily available in the store or in other clinics. Why do we need to do it here on campus?"