By law, Oregon’s teachers and other staff at every school are required to report cases of suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse. And, by law, sex between two teens, as long as one is three years or more older than the other, is abuse.
What’s less clear, at least to the leadership of the Salem-Keizer school district, is what the requirement is when a teacher or anyone else who works for a school district believes someone under the age of 18 is sexually active by choice. Salem teachers and other Salem district employees are expected to report, either to the state’s Department of Human Services or a law enforcement agency, if they believe a child is sexually active. They may be certain there’s no question of abuse, but report they must.
The rule apparently holds even if the kid involved is an employee’s own child.
Not surprisingly, a number of students, teachers and parents think the requirement goes too far. Most important, they argue the requirement prevents the sorts of conversations between students and trusted adults that can lead to counseling and birth control.
Then there’s this: If district teachers or other employees are discovered to have known but failed to report their suspicions, they could be fired and, in the case of teachers, find their professional licenses revoked.
Nor is the requirement, at least at its most draconian, widespread. In working on a story about the policy, the Salem Statesman-Journal checked with a number of school districts around the state, including Bend-La Pine Schools. Not a single one expected the sort of invasive reporting now being asked of Salem-Keizer employees.
That may be in part because, as Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel points out, an age difference of less than three years between two teens can be a legal defense against a consensual sex-abuse charge.
If the Salem-Keizer administration is being overzealous and demanding reporting the law does not require, it should take a chill pill and change the rules. If, on the other hand, the district is right, the law should be changed. Its descriptions of who are mandatory reporters — surely not a child’s own parents — should be more carefully drawn, as should its description of sexual abuse.
Real sexual abuse is too serious to be confused with consensual, if ill-advised, sex between two teenagers.