Disagreement about whether educators are required by law to report sexually active students to law enforcement has stirred debate in Salem-Keizer where teachers and staff were told they were required to file a report if they learned, or suspected, that a student was having sex.
The new practice comes from an interpretation of Oregon’s mandatory reporting and child abuse laws, which are meant to protect children. However, more than 550 students, teachers and parents signed a petition demanding the practice be stopped, criticizing the school district for applying the law to sexually active, consenting teens.
But educators in Douglas County say they interpret the law differently.
Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Gerry Washburn said the district doesn’t condone minors having sex, but said districts are only required to report sexual abuse, not sexual misconduct.
Oregon Revised Statutes 163.445 defines sexual misconduct as a person who “engages in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse with an unmarried person under 18 years of age.” Sexual misconduct is a Class C misdemeanor.
Sexual abuse is when a person subjects another person to sexual contact but lacks consent.
In the state’s administrative policies and procedures, mandatory reporters — which include teachers and school staff — are required to report child or adult abuse, including sexual abuse. Sexual misconduct is not listed.
“We are under no obligation to report sexual misconduct,” Washburn said. “We are under an obligation to report sexual abuse as defined in the statute.”
Days Creek Charter School Superintendent Mark Angle agreed.
“In Days Creek, we adhere to Oregon’s mandatory reporting law and report any suspected cases of abuse, but like most districts in the state, we have not required teachers to report students the way Salem-Keizer seems to be requiring,” he said.
Roseburg Police Department Sgt. Gary Klopfenstein said police investigate all allegations of sexual abuse, but when it comes to two underage teens having consensual sex, which could be reported as misconduct, a legal defense exists.
According to ORS 163.345, unless there is a three year age difference and the victims are at least 15 years of age, “there is a defense that makes it not a crime,” Klopfenstein said.
Washburn said the district’s goal is to keep schools a safe place for students to discuss concerns about sex with district personnel, because many students don’t feel comfortable speaking to their parents about sex. He said if teachers were forced to report every case of sexual activity, the trust between teachers and their students would be lost.