Upshur County Board votes on family planning service

BUCKHANNON — After four weeks of discussion the Upshur County Board of Education has voted to resume the current family planning services that are provided at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

In June, the board was made aware that through a signed memorandum of understanding with Community Care of West Virginia, family planning services were offered to students without parental consent for the 2017-18 school year.

During the July 24 meeting, folks from Community Care approached the board with three options regarding family planning services: keep the services currently being offered, eliminate the services completely or continue the services with parental consent, along with a referral to an off-site location for confidential services.

Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus said she and assistant superintendent Debra Harrison had met with Buckhannon-Upshur High School’s administration regarding Community Care’s on-site services prior to the July 24 board meeting.

Stankus informed the board, “In terms of the family planning … they said they’d rather this piece of it be off site.”

“They said they felt that the school was a place for academics and they needed to focus more on that, and they felt that this was something that the school was not appropriate to issue these types of things with the students,” Harrison added.

Harrison further explained she thought the administration’s concern was that the services were being offered on-site without parental permission.

By eliminating family planning services entirely, the clinic would not be able to prescribe oral contraceptives for students experiencing acne or irregular periods and for prevention of pregnancy, Patricia Collett, director of school-based health services for Community Care, advised the board.

“We can’t prescribe it at all,” she said. “So there’s other medical conditions that these medications are also used for then that limits us from even doing that and then access to care.”

Dr. Raymond Leonard with Community Care said the services are critical for females’ health, especially with development, adding the resources are federally and state-protected health services that students can receive at any clinic in the state of West Virginia.

Collett stressed that a student’s medical condition and health ultimately affect their learning experience.

“That all affects our education, so to think that a pregnancy in a school doesn’t affect an education or a STD that runs rampant through the school doesn’t affect education, that’s all a part of it,” she said. “Our medical conditions affect our ability to learn.”

Collett said family planning services can also impact a student’s socioeconomic status.

“You think about someone who ends up with a bad disease that goes on permanently … Let’s talk about herpes simplex that they have for the rest of their life. Let’s talk about those types of things,” she said. “Pregnancy — unintended pregnancies — but yet they have a child — how does that affect their education, their socioeconomic the rest of their life and how does that affect the next generation and the next generation?”

“One of the biggest single predictors of poverty is being an unwed mother and being less than 19,” Leonard added.

Collett presented the board 2015 data according to 2016 Kids Counts reports, stating the county’s teen birth rate for ages 15-19 per 100,000 is 33.8 percent.

“Which ranks 22nd in the state for births,” she said. “Which increased from 2005 to 2015.”

With several of Community Care’s school-based clinics throughout the state, Collett noted Pocahontas County has been successful from full-on family planning services.

“That’s our biggest, I would say, success,” said Leonard.

Board member Greenbrier Almond indicated he was leaning toward the option that family services should be offered with parental consent.

“I think we have to have the parent involved,” he said. “Whether or not ultimately the prescription is written at the high school clinic or whether it is written at the Rock Cave clinic … I think the parent has to be involved.”

Agreeing with Almond, board Vice President Katie Loudin said she was partial toward the parental consent option.

“If we’re going to have a discussion about it so that the people who need services can get them, but I don’t think by doing that – making it that parental consent — we’re saying you have the green light to do whatever …,” she added.

In the July 24 meeting, Board president Tammy Samples expressed uncertainty on which route to take.

“I’m not sure it’s our place, but some people aren’t going to get it if they don’t get it (at the school clinic),” she said.

By Tuesday evening’s meeting, board members had stated they had spoken to several community members, parents and medical physicians regarding family planning services.

“I’ve asked grandmothers. I’ve asked mothers of boys. I’ve asked mothers of girls. I’ve asked medical professionals, and not one person that I spoke with said it shouldn’t be offered,” Samples said.

After discussing the matter with area folks, Samples said she has decided that the board must do “what’s best for the students.”

“Whether that’s a popular vote or an unpopular vote, whether it alienates a group of people,” she said. “My charge as a board member is to do what’s best for kids, and that’s where I have to go with this decision.”

Board member Alan Suder described the matter as “a double-edged sword,” adding he is uncertain the administration is prepared to deal with upset parents.

“I agree that services can be provided, but I just don’t know if they need to be provided in school,” he said. “Personally I think that you could have this conversation and send it off campus because if not I think we’re just constantly going to be dealing with the situation.”

Board member Kristi Wilkerson made a motion to continue the family planning services as is. The motion passed with a three-to-one vote, with Suder voting against and Almond being absent for the vote.