Opposition to Salem-Keizer sex reporting may result in legislative change


Thousands of people have spoken against Salem-Keizer School District’s requirement to report any sexual activity involving minors, even if it’s thought to be consensual.

Opponents of the requirement are calling for a legislative solution that would allow students to confide in teachers, and teachers not to be fined or fired if they don’t report consensual sex between students.

Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman for Salem-Keizer, said the district is working on convening a group of students, legislators, school officials and the district attorney to help propose updates to current law.

And Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, announced this week she plans to introduce a fix in the February legislative session.

Salem-Keizer students first brought the issue to light with an online petition and a rally of about 15 students at the Oregon Capitol in October. The petition had racked up nearly 4,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

The requirement falls under Oregon’s mandatory reporting and child abuse laws. They’re meant to protect children, but the district’s clarification of the law is being criticized for being applied to sexually active, consenting teens.

Under Oregon law, any person younger than 18 is unable to give consent, so any sexual activity is considered abuse and needs to be reported.

More: 9 things to know about Salem-Keizer’s requirement to report teen sex

The issue has garnered statewide and national attention.

Gelser is advocating for a change in state laws to ensure students can speak with trusted adults about reproductive and sexual health. In a Facebook post Tuesday, she wrote:

While I still believe it is an overreach to require staff to report consensual sexual activity among youth, I am introducing a fix in the February session that will make it perfectly clear that consensual sex between teenagers does not need to be reported to law enforcement or DHS by teachers or parents.

This provision will be added to a bill I was already drafting to address problems with responding to abuse and neglect of severely and persistently mentally ill adults and those seeking substance abuse treatment.

While Gelser believes everyone has good intentions with the requirement, she sees it as a severe problem.

“Imagine for a minute if this was carried out,” she said. “If a 16-year-old gets an IUD, the doctor has to report it. If a 17-year-old gets the morning-after pill, the pharmacist has to report it. Every mandatory reporter whose kids come to them (to talk about sex), they have to report.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Currently, a doctor is not required to tell a teen’s parents if the minor is seeking birth control, Gelser said.

“They won’t tell the parents, but they’ll call the police?” she said. “It’s just so inconsistent with everything else we do.”

Gelser is working toward the Nov. 21 deadline for drafting bills for the February session. She called the Marion County district attorney Wednesday, asking if they have ever prosecuted a mandatory reporter for not reporting consensual sex or prosecuted teens for having consensual sex. The answer was no for both.

Debra Hauser is president of Advocates for Youth, a D.C.-based organization that helps young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health.

She recently released a statement describing the district’s approach to the law as “bizarre” and said it “will have the opposite effect.”

The way to keep kids safe is to earn their trust. That means providing comprehensive sex ed from an early age so they are empowered to make informed decisions about their bodies. It means having honest conversations about the meaning of consent. It means equipping them with the information they need to make good decisions about if and when to have sex.

And it means empowering them to come forward and talk about what’s going on in their own lives and helping them find healthy solutions. We know that open and honest conversations are the best way to prevent unintended teen pregnancy and STDs.

Why educators would rebuff these conversations — and instead encourage shame and fear — is incomprehensible.

This controversy started last month when the district gave a presentation that specified the requirements. Superintendent Christy Perry and Govus said they were doing the training to make sure employees understood the laws.

“It’s criminal not to report,” Govus said in a previous interview with the Statesman. “People’s careers are at stake here.”

Perry said students can still ask questions in class, or when speaking with a teacher or counselor. But if the student specifically references their own sexual activity in context to the comment or question, the teacher is responsible for reporting it.

The Salem-Keizer School Board meets Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Support Services Center, 2575 Commercial Street SE, Salem. The meeting will start at 5:30 p.m.

Mandatory reporting is not on the board’s agenda, but people can voice their concerns during the public comment portion for non-agenda items.

School board agendas and information can be found at http://www.salkeiz.k12.or.us/schoolboard.

Read the original story: Salem-Keizer staff told to report student sexual activity, including own kids

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Read more:

#MeToo: Salem calls for healing, empowerment and policy changes

Hundreds seek solutions to racial disparity in Salem-Keizer schools

Are schools doing what they need to educate Oregon students?

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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