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Mandatory reporting changes head to Legislature

Of the Keizertimes

A Oregon Senate bill submitted to the 79th Oregon Legislature that would modify Oregon’s mandatory reporting rules was set to be considered at the committee level this week.

The bill, SB 1540, amends the state’s rules to define reportable offenses as sexual contact or intercourse as those in which lacked consent – or the victim had the inability to provide consent  – for teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 21, if one of the parties is more than three years older, or if there is reasonable cause to believe the relationship was the result of force, intimidation or coercion.

Sponsored by Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) and Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer), the bill seeks to address the underlying law that prompted the Salem-Keizer School District to issue new mandatory reporting guidelines in October 2017.

Prior to the changes, Salem-Keizer School District (SKSD) teachers were required to report incidences of suspected neglect or any type of abuse to the Department of Human Services, but 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.

District administrators said the new policies were meant as a “clarification” of existing rules, but the change sparked outcry from students at McNary High School who held a protest on the steps of the Oregon Capitol and then a sit-in at the school. Teachers at McNary also voiced opposition to the changes.

The new guidelines were only put in place for SKSD and, later, the Klamath School District. However, if they are allowed to stand, it could end up setting precedent for every mandatory reporter in the state including: physicians, clergy members, counselors, pharmacists, firefighters, and any compensated coach to name a few.

When a review of the law underlying the mandatory reporting policies by the Oregon Attorney General Office found there were “ambiguities,” Gelser and Post moved forward with a bill to further define what constituted a reportable offense.

Gelser took up the issue after calls regarding the change began flooding her office.

When Keizertimes asked University of Oregon School of Law Professor Leslie Harris to review the training materials given to teachers and explanations provided by the district for the changes, Harris said the new policies were “sad.”

“The advice (given to the district) is extreme protect-yourself-from-liability kind of advice that has extremely bad consequences for students and teachers, and particularly for young people in difficult situations who need help,” said Harris.

The bill was slated for a hearing by the Senate Committee on Human Services Tuesday, Feb. 6.