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The Archuleta School District Board of Education (BOE) learned a valuable lesson this week — if the agenda includes a discussion of the school-based health center (SBHC) and the meeting is held in the Maintenance and Transportation building, there will be people standing out in the hall or sitting on the floor, because so many citizens are concerned about this issue.
Such was the situation Tuesday night.
The meeting began, as usual, with the Pledge of Allegiance and the approval of the minutes from previous meetings, but then board president Greg Schick opened it up for public comment. Seven people had signed up and Schick reminded them of the guidelines — no more than 30 minutes total, three minutes per person, and all commenters must remain respectful of other people.
While some commenters were clearly passionate, everyone did remain respectful. However, it was difficult to keep the speeches under three minutes, and in the end, nine people spoke instead of just the seven who had signed up.
Perhaps the best example came from the last speaker, who said, “I’m a mom, and it’s an insult to me that anybody would think they can take my kids (to the clinic). When my kids come to school and they’re sick, I’m the first one that wants to know. It’s my job to take care of that child and escort them to see a doctor, if that’s what I think they need to do. It’s not going to be some who-knows-who that takes my child to see a doctor and I don’t know a thing about it, and that’s what will happen. I do know that.
“That is what will happen when this health care center takes away the parent’s right to be a parent. That’s socialistic. It’s the government saying they can take better care of my child than I can. I love my children, and I’m their mother. Don’t try to take that away from me, and there are many other mothers out there who feel the same way I do.
“It’s just an insult, the whole thing is, and that we haven’t known about this … I don’t understand why it has been slipped under there. All this has been going on and we are just now finding out about it?”
“During our discussion,” Schick promised, “many of the misconceptions I have heard, we will go over and we will answer your questions.”
The board then had a couple of other decision items on the agenda to take care of first — one involving a field trip to Moab for the entire eighth-grade class and the other involving a trip to Chaco Canyon for the Pirate Achievement Center — before returning to the SBHC discussion.
While Bruce Dryburgh was the first board member to speak up, outlining once again the reasons for his reluctance to support the plan, it was board member Joanne Irons who attempted to directly address the concerns of the audience.
“I feel with some of the comments from the audience that there is still some misinformation out there,” Irons began.
The first concern Irons addressed was that no student would be referred to or allowed to use the SBHC if they did not have a written permission slip from a parent or guardian. When several audience members interrupted her to say that was not the case with SBHCs in other communities or to ask if they could have that promise in writing, Irons claimed it was in the business plan, which she had in front of her and held up for the audience to see.
“There was a community committee that did this research,” Irons continued, “traveled to other clinics, got the information and made recommendations, some of which we did not agree upon. For instance, no reproductive services will be granted.”
Irons was again interrupted by an audience member, who claimed the promise to not offer reproductive services would end after the first three years of operation, when the initial grant runs out.
“No. That’s not the way this works,” Irons countered.
Irons is in charge of the Pagosa Springs Youth Center, which offers a number of after school and summer programs for children and teenagers. She relayed a story of her own experience with trying to support a 17-year-old girl from the Youth Center who became pregnant and gave birth to a special-needs child.
“These kids need support,” Irons argued. “OK, we don’t want dissension in the community, but if the one hang-up is contraception or family planning or whatever, I totally get it.”
Irons became flustered and started several sentences without finishing them. She started to say something about how some parents are not there for their kids and girls are getting pregnant, before continuing, “I have young ladies who come to the Youth Center who say, ‘I cannot talk to my parents.’”
Irons went on to describe kids who were abused or are too sick to concentrate on schoolwork before reiterating the need for audience members to read what’s actually in the plan for the SBHC.
When one of the audience members complained that the public has not had access to the plan, Irons said, “Exactly, and that’s the part, when I sit here and listen to you guys, I’m like, ‘Let’s go through this, line by line if we have to.’ I am on this board to do the right thing for the education of these students, and many of them are not healthy students.”
Irons went on to mentioned mental health and the rash of recent school shootings before returning to the topic of reproductive health and explained that a teenage girl in Colorado can go to any health agency in town and get a pregnancy test or birth control without parental permission or notification.
“You guys are at a loss because you haven’t read this whole thing,” Irons again referred to the business plan in front of her, “and I feel bad about that because that’s what is making some of your comments so hard to hear.”
Two weeks ago, before the BOE had its annual retreat, SUN staff asked Superintendent Linda Reed for a copy of the business plan for the SBHC, which had been distributed to the board members and was the topic of discussion at the retreat.
However, Reed explained she had contacted the district lawyer, who said it was still a work in progress and therefore not a public document. The business plan, which is also the application the hospital plans to submit on Oct. 15 for a $400,000 grant from the state of Colorado, remained a secret until the day before Tuesday’s meeting, when it was finally uploaded onto the district’s website.
“I apologize if you have not had a chance to look at the business plan,” Reed told the crowd Tuesday night. “We have been working with Dr. Maureen Daly, who is a medical doctor who has been a consultant helping us with this. We had the board retreat, the board made many suggestions, and we had a conversation with Dr. Daly last week. She was out of town, off the grid, on vacation, which she is allowed to do.
“Anyway, I received the final revisions to the plan yesterday at one o’clock. I was in meetings from eight o’clock yesterday morning until I walked back in my office at six o’clock last night, at which point my plan was to upload the School Based Health Center business plan onto the website, which I did.
“Ideally, we would have gotten it out there much earlier, but this was the timeline we were working with, so I want to say upfront that it was uploaded yesterday evening a little after six o’clock. That being said, if you have a chance to look at it, there are a lot of answers to questions.”
Not only was the document not made available to the public in a timely fashion, it is also not the document many have asked for.
Earlier in the discussion, Dryburgh had explained, “This document is not from the school; it’s from the hospital. The problem is, we (the school board members) don’t have a document at all. There has never been a recommendation that deals solely with school issues come to us and say this is what we are going to do as a school board and this is how much it is going to cost. I’ve been requesting that for at least six months.”
Dryburgh did not make a formal motion instructing Reed or the Community Advisory Committee to prepare such a document, and Reed gave no indication that she planned to prepare such a document.
Dryburgh’s second concern was that the board has not been given any other options.
“How do I know this is the best option, and I’ve been asking this for months, if I’m not given the other alternatives? The group that is working on this is not getting the comments from this group,” Dryburgh referred to the crowd in front of him, “or from the board, because this document is not changing over time.”
In the end, the board did little to reassure the audience this was not a bait and switch. Each member of the board promised not to allow reproductive health services on the middle school campus to begin with, but Schick admitted that a year or two down the road, once the SBHC was established and operational, things could change. The current board has no legal right to dictate what future school boards can or cannot do.