Students, teachers and community members spoke in favor of the change at a listening session.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - James Kelleher, a senior at Tigard High School, speaks in favor of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board allowing access to birth control at its school-based health centers during a listening session at Tigard High School.Dozens of people voiced their support for the Tigard-Tualatin School District allowing its two school-based health centers to provide students with contraceptives in a community listening session Tuesday evening at Tigard High School. Not one public commenter spoke against the proposed change.

"I've never been at a listening session where everybody seemed to be coming at it from the same side," Jill Zurschmeide, chair of the school board, told the Times after the session. "Very surprising."

The district's two school-based health centers, located at Tigard and Tualatin high schools, are run by local health nonprofit Virginia Garcia, and will treat anyone living within district boundaries who is 19 or younger. Nobody is turned away because of inability to pay.

The health centers currently do not prescribe or provide contraceptives of any kind to patients. The school board began considering allowing contraceptives earlier this month, after declining to make the change twice before, in 2008 and 2012.

If the board ends up voting in favor of contraceptives, the health centers will begin providing patients with birth control shots and patches, condoms and prescriptions for oral contraceptives and vaginal rings. The centers also would educate students seeking birth control about their options, and provide follow-up consultations.

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 sexually transmitted infection testing, without parental consent.

In Multnomah County, 13 school-based health centers provide contraceptives to patients. Two centers in the Beaverton School District do as well.

At Tuesday's listening session, public commenters included teachers and school-based health center employees from Tigard-Tualatin and neighboring districts; district students and parents; and concerned Tigard community members.

Jennifer Abrams, one of the first commenters, has lived in Tigard for 41 years and had never been to a school board meeting before Tuesday. She doesn't have kids of her own in Tigard-Tualatin schools, but argued that, because sexually transmitted diseases can easily spread throughout a community, the question at hand was a public health issue.

"I'm concerned with kids not only keeping themselves safe, but also keeping people in the community safe," she said.

Other arguments in favor of contraceptives included the fact that, currently, the closest affordable source for birth control for district students is the Beaverton Planned Parenthood, which can be difficult for teens without cars or disposable income to access.

Several commenters also referenced studies showing that access to birth control does not make teens more likely to engage in sexual activity.

According to the 2017 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey — the district provided copies for attendees Tuesday night — nearly 5 percent of eighth-graders and 36 percent of high school juniors in the Tigard-Tualatin School District have had sexual intercourse.

Sierra Kruse, a senior at Tigard High, pointed out that students of color and from low-income families use the school-based health centers more than their white and higher-income peers do. She called the question of whether or not to provide contraceptives one of "human rights."

"This is an also issue of gender equality, as well as class equality," she continued. "While my male peers can go to any Walgreens and get condoms, that option is not necessarily available for females. For some reason, female sexual health is criticized while male sexual health is widely accessible, and I think school should be the place where we start dismantling that."

Several health teachers from within the district voiced their support. One said that giving students safe access to birth control would "complete the circle" of what they teach in class.

Paul Morrison, a Tualatin City Council member, also spoke in favor of contraceptives. "I can't find anybody against this," Morrison said.

At its next meeting, on Monday, Feb. 12, the school board will begin discussing the wording of the proposed policy change. The board then will host another listening session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, in Tualatin High's library. The issue may go to a vote at the board's Monday, Feb. 26 meeting.

Blair Stenvick
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