By Travis M. Andrews
Teachers and staff in the Salem-Keizer school district — which includes more than 40,000 students — were recently told that if they learn or merely suspect a student is sexually active, they must report it to law enforcement or state officials.
According to Oregon law, anyone under 18 years old cannot legally give consent, meaning all sexual activity between minors is considered sexual abuse. This policy, district officials say, stems from Oregon’s mandatory reporting and child abuse laws. But that seems to be a singular interpretation of the law. The Statesman Journal reached out to school districts around the state and found that not one of them had the same mandate.
The subject came up at a training session for teachers and staff in the school district because “we felt like we hadn’t made it clear enough,” as Superintendent Christy Perry told the Statesman Journal.
During the presentation, the district offered several specific examples of when an employee needs to contact law enforcement. These include a 15-year-old telling a teacher that she is having sex with her boyfriend and wants to learn about birth control, or a 17-year-old confiding in a teacher that his 16-year-old girlfriend is pregnant.
Another example: “A 14-year-old boy confides in you that he was kicked out of the house after his parents discovered that he was in a same-sex relationship. During the conversation, the student shares that he has engaged in sexual acts with his partner.”
The district claimed the policy is for the teenagers’ safety.
“Simply reporting to the state doesn’t mean police are going to be knocking on the door of students,” district spokeswoman Lillian Govus told KOIN. “What it does allow for is an abundance of caution in ensuring that our children are safe.”
Some pointed out that this leaves high school students without anyone to speak with about sex.
“You can’t have a conversation about safe sex without talking about sex,” Deborah Carnaghi, a program coordinator for Child Protective Services in Oregon’s Department of Human Services, told the Statesman Journal.
Others pointed out that sexual activity among high school students is common.
“We understand that the law for age of consent is at least 18,” Angel Hudson, an 11th-grader at McNary High School in Salem, Ore., wrote in support of the petition. “But we also understand that jaywalking is illegal, and everyone still does that. It’s a matter that occurs far too often to arrest every single jaywalker.”
More than 40 percent of high school students surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported having sex in 2015, which if applied to this particular district, would account for almost 12,000 students. The average age Americans have sex for the first time is 17.3 years old.
“I lose the ability to have a private conversation with a trusted adult who works for the district, about something personal to me,” Hudson added. “Talking about sexual activity between teachers and students should be confidential.”
Some teachers said they would simply ignore the mandate.
“To me, I feel like I’m being told to tell the students to shut up,” a teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Keizertimes. “Teachers are also being told to establish appropriate adult-student connections so that when students come to school they feel safe and cared for. If students have a trusted adult at school that they need to talk with about sex, I see no problem with teachers being that.”
Govus said the district is merely trying to comply with the law.
But the Statesman Journal said it checked with other school districts in the state
“It is not convenient for our educators to report these in all instances and it’s not something that the students desire,” Govus told KOIN. “But for our employees to remain compliant with the law as it is written we must report and that goes for any school district employee [who] must report any sexual activity between minors.”
One parent, though, offered a solution.
“So rather than reporting it to the authorities, use that to gain trust, get insight and educate the kids. That way you’ll know what’s going on,” parent Joyce Stevens told KATU.