TTSD considering contraceptives for students
The Tigard-Tualatin School District opened the door to considering allowing its school-based health centers to prescribe contraceptives to students in a board meeting Monday evening.
Susan Stark Haydon, director of community relations for the district, presented a general report about the two school-based health centers — one at Tigard High School, the other at Tualatin High School — and indicated the district's intention to schedule a second presentation at the board's Monday, Jan. 22, meeting.
That Jan. 22 presentation would be followed by a community listening session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at Tigard High. The board would then bring the issue to a vote at its Monday, Feb. 12, meeting.
In the public comment period preceding Stark Haydon's presentation, three of the four speakers addressed the issue of contraceptives. Two were in favor of allowing the health centers to prescribe them, and one was against it.
"We should encourage every student to be responsible, we should admire any student who seeks professional advice, and we should embrace every opportunity to educate and protect our children," said Robin Gensler, speaking in favor of contraceptives. Gensler ran for a seat on the school board last year, before pulling out of the race in April, citing personal reasons.
Michael Bednarek, who ran for the school board against sitting board member Maureen Wolf in 2013 and lost, spoke against the possibility of prescribing birth control to students.
"If this board decides that your little girl should have access to birth control and maybe abortion on demand, it's their decision, not the parents,'" Bednarek said.
(Although Bednarek repeatedly referred to abortion in his public comment, The Times could find no indication that the board is considering allowing abortions in school-based health centers.)
According to Oregon state law, minors 15 years and older are able to consent to medical and dental services without parental consent. Additionally, minors of any age are allowed to access birth control-related information and services, as well as sexual transmitted infection testing, without parental consent.
The local nonprofit medical organization Virginia Garcia operates both of the district's health centers; the district only provides infrastructure for the centers to operate in. The centers provide basic medical, dental and mental health services to all district students and their siblings at a low cost, and no one is turned away because of inability to pay.
The district's first health center opened in 2008 at Tigard High; Tualatin High's opened in 2015. The district has looked into the possibility of allowing the centers to provide birth control to students twice before — once when Tigard High's opened in 2008, and again in 2012.
Each time, the community and school board were unable to come to a consensus. The district chose to continue not allowing it, but there is no hard-and-fast district policy against it.
"The advisory committee felt so strongly about wanting to get the health centers open (in 2008), that they said, we're going to open without contraceptives," Stark Haydon said.
Lacey Beaty, program director of school-based health centers for Virginia Garcia, also spoke during Stark Haydon's presentation. She pointed out that, when the district's first health center opened in 2008, minors in the area had access to affordable contraceptives at the Essential Health Clinic in Tigard. That clinic closed in 2013.
"Now the closest access point is the Planned Parenthood in Beaverton, or the Lovejoy Surgicenter (in Northwest Portland)," Beaty said.
In his public comment, Bednarek pointed out that if contraceptives prescribed by a school-based health center damaged a minor's health, that minor's parent would be responsible for subsequent medical care, despite the fact that they did not consent to their child taking contraceptives to begin with.
"You could lose your life savings over it — your house, your car, maybe your retirement savings — because you're responsible for your little girl's health while she's a minor," he said.
Contraceptives can cause health problems, though most are mild and not life-threatening.
Bednarek also argued that it should not be the school board's place to make medical decisions for students.
Gensler, in her public comment, pointed out that Oregon law already allows minors to access birth control without parental consent. She argued that she would prefer students access contraceptives through a school resource, rather than somewhere else.
"Students who would use the health center to access contraceptives are actually providing us with a unique opportunity, by opening the door for a conversation with someone tied to our community, who truly has our students' best interests in mind," she said. "Consider the alternatives: friends, pharmacists, someone who has no connection to the community — maybe even no one."
Bednarek's and Gensler's points will likely be argued and considered on a wider scale at the proposed Jan. 23 community listening session.
Near the end of her presentation Monday night, Stark Haydon addressed the board directly with a warning about the controversy to come.
"It's going to be hard when you hear all of the comments and everything that happens when we go through this process," she said, "because people are just passionate about it."
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