By Journalists Helen Thias & Stevie Walker
Forest Grove only makes up .9% of Oregon’s overall population, but according to statistics from 2014 it is home to 13% of all teen pregnancies in the state. Currently, Forest Grove High School has 17 students (14 mothers and 3 fathers) who are expecting a child or have one. How do we combat this high number? Some believe that the Student Based Health Center (SBHC) is the answer. The health center offers a range of services from mental health help, necessary vaccinations, and even some dental work, but at this point the SBHC is unable to offer students any form of contraceptives. Many would like to see this change, but what would be the possible outcomes of birth control being available in a school? Some say it stops valuable conversations between parent and child from happening, others say that it allows students to take their health into their own hands when it may not be safe for them to go through a parent.
Ideally, students would feel comfortable enough to talk to their guardian about birth control options and find what works best for them and their family. Unfortunately, many teens do not have a trusting and safe relationship with their parents, which could prevent them from accessing contraceptives. If the student based health center allows students to seek out contraceptives without the help of a parent, it can feel like they are crossing the line between family issues and school issues. However, as Lilly Mejia a senior at FGHS points out “..this issue is easily remedied by something that is already in place. At the beginning of the year there was a waiver sent to all students that required parents to sign and return if they don’t want their child to have access to SBHC”. Some even see that a school offering contraceptives is a way of promoting sexual activity, when abstinence is the only sure way of not getting pregnant. When asked, Forest Grove High School teacher Scott McCahon said “I personally think that birth control is not going to solve the pregnancy issue, abstinence is the best, parent involvement, and a relationship with your kids”. While it is clear that not all students choose the abstinence route, that does not necessarily mean that they are responsible enough to use contraceptives in the right way. If students have to discuss with a parent, they may be able to find a better solution than a nurse who doesn’t know the student’s history. When SBHC was first implemented at the high school, there was an contract that they would not pass out any form of contraceptive, however this agreement ended in 2014, which means it is up for reconsideration, but some feel that SBHC was only agreed upon because of the contract.
Others firmly believe that giving students access to birth control at the SBHC is the most effective way to lower our high school’s pregnancy rate. The current problem at hand is that, as stated by Forest Grove High School student Hyrum Hansen, “Adults can preach abstinence all they want, it’s not going to happen,” and if teens do not have access to birth control, the pregnancy rate will continue to be high. Whether this is the responsibility of the SBHC is the key question at hand. Those who support it argue that the school is already thoroughly providing other forms of health care such as pap smears and pregnancy tests to students, so why shouldn’t it be able to provide family planning? The Student Based Health Center is for the students, and while some students do choose the abstinence route, not every student does. By not offering contraceptives, the SBHC is thereby not catering to every student’s needs the way it should be able to. Denying contraceptives is for the parents and other adults in the community who feel entitled to deciding a student’s health. A student health center offering contraceptives is not a new idea. Many schools around the country already offer a variety of contraceptives to their students. At the moment, the only means a Forest Grove student has of receiving contraceptives necessary for safe sex is visiting a local supermarket and buying their own, and even still they are limited on options available without prescription. Beyond the lack of options, the ones available are not always budget friendly to students, but that doesn’t means students don’t engage in sexual activity, it just means they won’t be having protected sex.
Although the agreement that the Student Based Health Center would not give out any forms of contraceptives ended in 2014, the issue has not been readdressed by the school board. Currently, there is no plan to address this issue, as both the Superintendent Yvonne Curtis and Forest Grove High School Principal Karen O’Neil know that it will take lots of time, logistics, and money – that could be spent on educational issues – to organize and pass the sensitive topic of family planning through the school board. At the moment, it is up to the Student Health Advisory Committee to organize and get the student voice heard.