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District puts health center for Scappoose students on hold

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Grant funding not enough to cover build out of facility, officials say


SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Scappoose Superintendent Stephen Jupe speaks during a school board meeting Monday, Nov. 14. Jupe informed the school board that the district must find a new location to build a proposed school-based health center as the proposed location at the middle school would exceed grant funding being awarded for the project. Plans for the Scappoose School District to establish a school-based health center by next spring have been placed on hold while school officials find a location to build the proposed center.

During a school board meeting Monday, Nov. 14, Superintendent Stephen Jupe announced that costs to build the health center in the annex gym at Scappoose Middle School were higher than expected and would not be covered by a $60,000 grant from the Oregon Health Authority, which has been tentatively secured by the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County.

The shortfall forced the district to consider its options about moving forward with the project.

In August, the school board approved a partnership with the health foundation to pursue the creation of a school-based health center on the condition the district would not incur any expenses during the process and a suitable location could be found to house the facility on school grounds. At the time, the OHA had just awarded the health foundation the planning grant to pursue the health center, which hinged upon the agreement with the school district.

While the middle school was identified as the first viable location for the center, cost estimates for construction were greater than expected.

Jupe approached the board Monday with three options: find a new location, find another funding source outside the district to pay the cost, or reject the grant funding.

What happens next is unclear. After numerous public comments made during the meeting, the board dismissed the topic without taking a vote or determining what course of action to pursue.

Jupe later explained the board would likely meet before the end of the month to reconsider the project during a school board work session on Nov. 28, if not sooner.

A large group of parents spoke out opposed to the school-based health center, stating that it removes parents from the healthcare of their children and could provide access to medical treatments or to reproductive health information, the latter a moral concern for some.

Others spoke in favor of the center, arguing it provides a needed, accessible service to students. Several audience members mentioned the benefits of keeping students in school by providing quick access to medical care when needed.

One long-time school district employee said, “If this isn’t going to cost us anything, why wouldn’t we do it?”

Brenda VanDomelen, the school district’s nurse, added that the center is not designed to remove parents from the health care of their children, but to provide a resource to families who might not be able to get medical care elsewhere.

“I mean, that’s the whole idea, is that it gives the parent the option who doesn’t have gasoline in the car to get to a primary care doctor, or who doesn’t have a primary care doctor for that matter,” she said.

Several board members and parents expressed serious concerns about the lack of communication prior to the August vote regarding establishment of the school-based health center.

Only two informational meetings about the center were held with the school board prior to accepting the grant, and those were held more than a year and a half apart. The first meeting, held in April 2015, left board members with concerns about who would be the medical sponsor and where the center would be located. The second meeting was held in August 2016, when the board voted to approve the center.

“We were so uninformed to make an intelligent decision, to do our due diligence,” board member Lisa Maloney said.

During the August board meeting, Maloney said board members should have time to consider the school-based health center before voting after a yearlong gap with no updates. Maloney also said the school board should be involved in the business of education, not health care.

If the health center is not built and certified by next spring, the county’s public health foundation will lose Oregon Health Authority grant funding for the project.