Students, teachers united against reporting changes

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

An expansion of mandatory reporting policies in the Salem-Keizer School District isn’t sitting well with teachers or students at McNary High School.

Teachers were notified in the second week of October that they would need to take an additional mandatory reporting training online and, by early last week, teachers, students and even parents were challenging the new rules in private and through petition and protest.

“It’s really nice to be able to go to our teachers because there are some things you aren’t comfortable talking with your parents about. The teachers at McNary are genuinely caring. They want to help you succeed and be there as an ear,” said Kimberly Schott, a McNary junior and an organizer of a protest in downtown Salem Monday, Oct. 23.

“The district wants a safe, healthy environment, but I don’t feel safe if I can’t talk about some of these issues without getting reported,” said Schott.

Schott also initiated an online petition at change.org (http://bit.ly/2y1ayDY) that has garnered more than 500 signatures. A sit-in protest was planned for Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the school.

Prior to the changes, 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.

The training materials suggest that the new guidelines were put in place based on current child abuse reporting laws and “conversation with community partners who are experts on the issue.”

A spokesperson for the district, Lillian Govus, said, “This is not a change in policy, merely a clarification. As mandatory reporters, we simply give the information to the correct agencies, but it is up to their discretion whether action would be taken. This presentation is being shared with all Salem-Keizer employees to ensure we are in compliance with this law.”

However, the clarification feels like a stretch, said Ricky Galvin, a McNary sophomore.

“The law says to report sexual abuse and rape and nothing about consensual sex,” Galvin said. “What’s the point of them teaching sex ed if a student does decide to have safe sex and ends up getting reported when they want to talk about it?”

It also made junior Marissa Dougall, another student organizer, feel uneasy.

“This change wasn’t communicated to students or parents except through teachers. If I didn’t know about this rule, what other rules don’t I know about that could get me reported?” Dougall said.

Talk within the school rapidly turned to finding the loopholes in the new policy, Dougall added.

“In my advisory class, we talked about this the entire period. We decided we could come in, talk about situations hypothetically and there wouldn’t be anything to report without names,” she said.

In response to the new guidelines regarding inquiries to teachers about birth control, Dougall and Schott pointed out that students could walk into Planned Parenthood and receive birth control without parental knowledge.

Galvin bristled at an example regarding the homosexual student.

“He just got kicked out of his home, and now he’s potentially dealing with a investigation?  Does the student have to deal with it or the parents or does the district just let it go because it’s too hard to deal with? If they can just let that go, why not all the other ones?” Galvin said.

That particular example also raised the hackles of a McNary teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“I’m not reporting that kid to DHS, he’s needs to get a home and help. I’m not going to turn him in for having sex. He’s already vulnerable and at a high risk for suicide,” the teacher said.

Under prior guidelines, the teacher said they were still cautious about student interaction, but not afraid to intervene.

“If a kid is in the hallway bawling and I always ask them to tell me what’s going on. I ask if it’s social or school. They might say it’s social and I ask if it’s friend or boyfriend drama,” the teacher said.

The next questions revolve around whether the student is being hurt by someone, the teacher said. Depending on the specifics of the issue and the gender of the student, the teacher said they would either counsel the student themselves or refer them to a teacher of the same gender.

If the teacher overhead students talking about consensual sex, the students were asked to change the topic.

“To me, I feel like I’m being told to tell the students to shut up,” the teacher said. “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.”

To a one, the students rallying support against the changes found it hard to believe the roles they’ve assumed in the last two weeks, but all three mentioned an easily overlooked situation that will occur frequently if the new guidelines stand: numerous teachers at McNary and elsewhere in the district have students in Salem-Keizer schools. There’s no delineation in the new guidelines for those situations.

“That’s crazy,” said Schott. “We are losing our trust in the district that is supposed to help us grow into the adults.”