Tension is building at Hopkins High School after the recent postponement of a decision by the school board on whether or not to house a satellite of a reproductive health clinic at the school.
“Last winter, I worked closely with West Suburban Teen Clinic and would refer students to them. They did a survey about wanting the clinic to be more accessible and that’s when the light bulb popped into my head. If you can’t get the kids to the service why not bring the service to the kids,” said Bobbi Pointer, a registered nurse and the licensed school nurse of Hopkins High School.
IIn May, the school board received a proposal from Pointer along with other district staff to implement a teen clinic in the high school. This proposal came shortly after the results of the 2007 Minnesota Student Survey showed 53 percent of male seniors and 50 percent of female seniors reported being sexually active. That’s up from 32 percent of male seniors in 2004 and 34 percent of female seniors reporting having ever had sex, Pointer said.
“It is a huge jump and that’s what we’re very concerned about,” Pointer said.
But, in August, the Hopkins school board was confronted by a handful of people who protested against the installation of a clinic in the high school and shortly after these meetings the clinic was suspended.
“I decided to postpone the clinic because there are many questions that didn’t have a response to them, and I want to be able to have that response for the school board,” said John Schultz, superintendent of the school district.
Many believe the people who made a complaint at the school board meetings were the deciding factor in the postponement, but Schultz said they were not.
Their comments included concerns that providing reproductive health services at school without parental consent violated the parents’ rights. Opponents also argued that the opt-out option for families wouldn’t change their mind about protesting the clinic because Minnesota law gives teens the right to visit a clinic without parental consent.
“Services offered in this way do support behaviors contrary to the moral good,” said Bill Clemen, an attendee of the August 21st school board meeting and a Hopkins school district resident.
The clinic, which has developed into a controversial issue, has struck a chord with many students and staff at Hopkins High School.
“I am very disappointed about the postponement of the clinic. We all know it is an emotional, hot topic,” said Pointer.
“It was stopped out of fear and I don’t believe we were able to respond in the moment,” she said.
The clinic, which was set to open in November, according to Pointer, was not a very well known topic at the high school until it was postponed and many questions have gone unanswered.
Feelings of students at the high school range from apathetic to fervent on the issue, but most seem to be in favor of the clinic coming to Hopkins.
“Teens are having sex. I think (by creating a clinic) they are just being realistic. (Those opposed to the clinic) are in a fantasy if they are not accepting it,” said Alyssa DeRubeis, senior at Hopkins High School.
But there are students who oppose it.
“I believe it isn’t the school’s business and there already is a teen clinic close by that students can get to,” said Julia Anderson, a senior.
The clinic was supposed to be available to students with reproductive health questions and needs, but many adults saw it as promoting sex to students.
“I want to make it clear that” in-school clinics “don’t only provide condoms and birth control. We want to supply them with better and clear information so they can make good decisions,” Pointer said.
Minnesota graduation requirements state that health instruction “must be provided to all students at least once” before they graduate from high school, but many think this isn’t enough to combat teenage pregnancy.
“Health class does a good job with the very limited time they have,” Pointer said.
Marit Lee Dohse, a health teacher at Hopkins High School agrees.
“Our” reproductive health “unit is nine days and we spend very little time on teenage pregnancy and STIs and mainly focuses on what a healthy relationship looks like,” Lee Dohse said. “It is absolutely not enough time to cover everything.”
Now the question stands of how the decision about the clinic is going to be made.
The answer is set to come in April once the school board gathers what they need and sets their agenda for what they will discuss for the 2009-2010 school year. The teen clinic is sure to be one of the topics.
“We have some work to do on our end to make sure the clinic fits in with other issues at the high school,” said Schultz.
The community input will be a big factor of whether or not a clinic will open at Hopkins, and this is what the administration thinks is currently lacking.
“I understand both sides of the equation. What I really truly believe is we need to do something, whether it is family wise or school-wise to feed the needs of the students. It takes a combination of family and community,” said Willie Jett, principal of Hopkins High School and a former health teacher at North Senior High School in Minneapolis, one of the first schools to have a teen clinic.
“The community” at Nouth High School “was just happy to have the clinic because it provided more than just reproductive health services,” Jett said. “I believe the clinic is one way of addressing issues, but, definitely, it is not the only way.”
There is no doubt this controversial decision will be much debated this year.
“We are not stopping in our pursuit for evidence-based research and information to present to the school board, so they understand the need that exists and what is best for students at Hopkins High School,” Pointer said.