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Gervais School Board stays steady on condom issue

Staff requests additional time to implement condom availability to middle and high school students


While the Gervais School board expressed caution at its Wednesday meeting in implementing its condom availability plan, board directors remained supportive of the school district’s human sexuality policy heading into the 2014-15 school year.

The school board voted in May to make condoms available to students in grades six through 12 via trained health teachers in the middle school and high school. The decision prompted strong reaction from many community members who attended the June meeting to voice their disapproval.

While board members continued to side in favor of the human sexuality policy on Wednesday, and although no official action was taken, they expressed desire to use the policy as the starting point in reaching out to the Gervais community.

“We need to do something, and this is the jumping point,” board vice-chair Molly McCargar said.

The school board had been discussing the district’s sex education policy for more than a year after representatives from Oregon Health & Science University presented a study showing 7 percent of Gervais High School girls had become pregnant. Their study shows in total, 5 percent of girls in middle and high school experienced a pregnancy in the past year.

Several board members were hesitant in their approval of the program, but felt something needed to be done to combat the issue of teen pregnancy in Gervais.

“Is handing out condoms getting to the source of the problem?” board member Brent LaFollette said. “No, but kids are getting pregnant, and condoms are the only thing that can curtail the risk if kids are engaging in risky activity.”

Several community members attended the meeting to once again speak out against the policy, including Dan Saalfeld, who has two daughters attending Gervais High School.

“It’s a far bigger problem than can be addressed with the distribution of condoms,” Saalfeld said. “It’s kind of like a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem.”

Board members agreed, but noted that making condoms available to sexually-active students at least helps curb the consequences of the issue in the interim. Meanwhile the school district wants to work with the community to combat the larger challenge of teen pregnancy and other risky behaviors.

“Yes, it’s a Band-Aid, but it’s needed,” board chair Steve Rush said. “If you cut your finger, you’re not just going to let it bleed all over the place.”

Several members of the school district, including new Superintendent Matt Henry and Gervais High School Principal Mike Solem felt the school district was not ready to implement the policy when school opens in September and asked for more time.

“We would be hesitant to just go forward with implementation,” Henry said, asking for an extra four to six months per his staff recommendations to achieve full community and staff support. “If our staff is going to have to do this, they need to feel confident.”

Solem stated that when students found out about condom availability, there was immediate demand, but he felt the schools were not ready and needed to be more thorough in their implementation of the policy before it was enacted this fall.

Despite the hesitations from Henry and Solem, board members held firm in their support of the policy.

“I need to see compelling reason to not implement this immediately,” LaFollette said. “We don’t need to wait another one or two years.”

McCargar concurred, citing a survey of students that was taken before and after sexual education. Even after taking the classes, 3 percent of students responded that a girl could not get pregnant the first time having sex, and nearly 10 percent said abstinence was not the best option to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

“Obviously some kids still just don’t get it,” McCargar said.

After the meeting, Henry stressed that the school district’s administrative staff was in full cooperation with the school board, and that any hesitations were about how best to implement the plan and foster support and communication with the Gervais community.

“This is going to be a transparent process, and we’re going to take the time to do it right,” Henry said. “We have a playbook, we just have to be sure we’re putting in the right offensive schemes and strategies to be effective.”

Since the original vote in May, the school district has been contacted by many community members and agencies that want to help work with the district in getting to the root of the issue.

Board members discussed the possibility of bringing in health professionals from OHSU as an alternative to school staff providing condoms or creating a satellite branch of the Boys and Girls Club to help give students additional after-school resources.

Still, board members remain committed to the human sexuality policy and are ready to work with the middle and high school in its implementation.

“If there’s one thing I feel guilty about, it’s that I didn’t have the guts to do this four years ago,” LaFollette said. “How many kids have gotten pregnant in the last four years?”

Further details of the school’s human sexuality policy will be discussed at the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 21. Meeting times and agenda packets can be found at www.gervais.k12.or.us/district/school-board.

Phil Hawkins covers sports and the community of Gervais. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1194.



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