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By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
A change to mandatory reporting guidelines in the Salem-Keizer School District to include instances of consensual sex between teens has ended up uniting a Democratic state senator and Republican state representative.
Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat representing Senate District 8, and Rep. Bill Post, representing House District 25, are co-sponsoring a bill they plan to introduce during the legislative
session in February.
“I am a Democratic female senator from Corvallis, the Republican is from Keizer with a conservative talk show and we’re co-sponsoring a bill about teen sex,” said Gelser.
Prior to the changes to policy guidelines issued in October, Salem-Keizer School District teachers and staff were required to report incidences of suspected neglect or any type of abuse to the Department of Human Services (DHS). However, the new guidelines expand reporting to most sex-related issues. New instances that would require reporting include: a student inquiring about birth control options after admitting to sex with a partner; reports of a pregnancy; a student confiding in a teacher after being kicked out of his home for divulging a sexually active, same-sex relationship.
Gelser said she became aware of the issue after reports of the change started appearing in the media and she began getting requests for comment.
“I talked to the school district, the district attorney, DHS and then I started hearing from every organization that represents mandatory reporters, which is pretty much every organization,” Gelser said.
While the guidelines are only in place for SKSD as of now, if they are allowed to stand, it could end up setting precedent every mandatory reporter in the state including: physicians, clergy members, counselors, pharmacists, firefighters, and any compensated coach to name a few.
“If a 16-year-old gets the pill, a pharmacist is supposed to call the police as she walks away. A 16-year-old goes to the doctor because he thinks he has a STD, they treat him and call the child abuse hotline,” Gelser said. “It’s completely nonsensical. It’s also dangerous. I would rather clarify the law and make it perfectly clear than risk overwhelming the abuse hotline with unnecessary calls and put kids at risk who are being sexually abused.”
The clarification she and Post are sponsoring would exclude consensual sexual activity among teenager from mandatory reporting if the only reason for lack of consent is age and “the circumstances are not otherwise offensive.”
“If you are a middle school teacher with a pregnant 11-year-old that is still going to require a call to the hotline. Even if she was with another 11-year-old, there are probably concerns about supervision and vulnerability,” Gelser said.
Post is hoping it won’t even come to needing a legislative fix. He is waiting for reviews to come back from the Legislative Counsel and the Oregon Department of Justice that will determine whether the SKSD misinterpreted Oregon’s abuse laws with its new interpretations.
Gelser said she hasn’t heard from any colleagues that plan to oppose the proposed fix, but in the meantime she said SKSD isn’t complying with requests to defer action on the new guidelines until the judicial reviews or legislative fix is in place.
“They are clearly not willing to delay and that is really unfortunate that our kids are going to be terrified and somebody is going to get pregnant and that can’t be undone,” Gelser said.