The School Board is expected to vote on the issue during its February meeting.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - For the second time in two years, the Hillsboro School Board is considering whether the district's health center at Century High School should be allowed to prescribe birth control to students.For the second time in two years, the Hillsboro School Board is considering a plan which would allow the district's school-based health center to offer contraceptives to students.

On Tuesday, the board held a first reading of the policy change, sparking several members of the public to testify both for and against the plan.

The policy would grant nurses employed at the school-based health center at Century High School the ability to prescribe and dispense birth control and other contraceptives to students, should they ask for it.

It removes a section which expressly forbids the health center from prescribing and dispensing contraceptives to students and removes a former policy that the district "promotes abstinence as the safest, most effective method of protection" against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The board has barred contraceptives at the Century-based clinic since it opened nearly a decade ago. In May 2016, the school board considered changing that policy, but opted not to after Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which operates the clinic, said it couldn't guarantee that parents would be notified if their child sought birth control. Health center employees said state and federal laws on medical confidentiality applies to patients as young as 15.

The issue made headlines after the board's final vote on the matter was split along gender lines, with the board's four male members voting against allowing contraceptives, while its female members voted in favor.

The School Board has seen considerable change in its makeup since last fall, when four pro-contraceptives challengers were elected into office. In December, school board chair Wayne Clift stepped down to focus on a career in teaching.

That open seat is expected to be filled ahead of a final vote on the contraception issue, which is set for Feb. 27. The board will appoint a replacement to the seat on Feb. 13.

Proponents of the plan have said allowing students access to contraceptives will decrease teen pregnancy rates, and help students focus on school. According to the Oregon Health Authority, which tracks teen pregnancies across the state, Washington County made up more than 20 percent of all teen pregnancies in Oregon between 2014 and 2016, the most recent data available. ZIP code 97123 — which encompasses a large section of southern Hillsboro south to Scholls — had 145 teen pregnancies, the largest number reported in the county. An additional 76 teen pregnancies in ZIP code 97124 were also reported in that time.

Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center runs six school-based clinics across Washington and Yamhill counties. Two of its clinics, located at Beaverton and Willamina high schools, already provide contraceptive services.

What parents, students say

Opponents of the plan argued that the school board already decided on the issue in 2016, and questioned the need for further review.

"Here we are again," said opponent Nancy Hersh. "This room was packed with parents opposed to this. It is really sad that we have to do this again."

Lynne Jacobs, a proponent of the plan, said the state is clear on the issue: Oregon law allows students as young as 15 to access contraceptive care. By withholding contraceptives from the school-based health center, she said, students are forced to go to Portland or Beaverton to obtain those services.

"Asking young person to hitch a ride, or walk several miles to get to health center to get a prescription is an undue barrier when services could be provided at the school they attend," she said. "What we want to do is provide access to a state-sanctioned contraceptive that the state has decided should be provided."

Parent April Davis, who ran for school board last fall, said that allowing contraceptives at school-based health centers without parent input effectively shuts parents out an important conversation in their children's lives.

"The School-Based Health Center basically takes parents out of the picture when it comes to the healthcare of their own children," she said. "I don't think that's what the school district or school board wants for our children. By following Oregon law and allowing children to access healthcare without parent notification or permission I think is the wrong message for the district to send."

In the days leading up to Tuesday's meeting, former School Board member Monte Akers called for the School-Based Health Center to close. Akers voted against contraceptives in 2016, and supported the clinic when it was formed in 2011, but said that in recent years the health center has become an "overwhelming distraction to the district."

"It is time for the district to end the health center and get back to educating your kids," Akers wrote in a letter to the editor published in the Tribune last week. "There is plenty of work to be done without embroiling the district in social issues."

Danny Adzima, a 14-year-old freshman at the district's Miller Education Center in downtown Hillsboro, said she wanted to offer a perspective from the people most impacted by the change: students.

"I'm friends with students who have kids of their own," she said. "This topic is near and dear to my heart. It's important to talk about it."

Adzima said it was important for the district to offer students contraceptives as a way to protect student health.

"Being sexually active as a teen is a choice," she said. "It's one friends of mine have made. Even if I don't 100 percent support it, it's important that they can be safe, that they can be protected and get the help they need. Even if their parents wouldn't support them through it or if they don't find support in their community. They need the ability to be anonymous and get the help they need."

Hillsboro isn't the only Washington County school district grappling with the issue. The same night Hillsboro School Board members heard from the community, the Tigard-Tualatin School District was also discussing the issue at a community meeting.

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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