A school district in Oregon is under fire for following the law — mostly because they are the only ones doing it.
Officials at the Salem-Keizer School District recently told staff and teachers that under Oregon law they must report to law enforcement or state officials if they learn, or suspect, a student is sexually active.
Failure to report could lead to a state investigation, job loss or a misdemeanor charge.
“We do training on mandatory reporting every year,” Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman for Salem-Keizer, told Fox News on Friday. “A hypothetical question was posed on what happens regarding sexual activity.”
“We teach our students how words matter. The legislators are learning that their words are impacting our students."
She said they sought legal clarification and it was determined that sexual conduct between teens falls under mandatory reporting.
Under Oregon’s mandatory reporting and child abuse laws, any person under the age of 18 is unable to give consent — meaning any sexual activity, even if it’s consensual, is considered abuse and needs to be reported.
All employees of Salem-Keizer School District, including parents of high school parents, are mandatory reporters. Reports are sent to the Department of Human Services or law enforcement if a person has "reasonable cause" to believe a child is being abused.
Oregon's so-called "three-year rule," or ORS 163.345, which addresses when individuals are similar in age and force and coercion is not present, only applies in criminal proceedings and does not apply to mandatory reporting.
A recent survey by the Center for Disease Control said more than 40 percent of high school students in the U.S. said they have had sex. Salem-Keizer has more than 11,800 high school students.
According to the Statesman Journal, most school districts in Oregon reportedly do not follow mandatory reporting to this degree.
Govus, who acknowledged that state laws put district employees in a difficult position, said they must follow the letter of the law.
“We cannot direct our teachers to not comply with the law,” she said. “We cannot pick and choose what laws to comply with.”
Just because it is reported to the state, it does not mean that anything will come from it, Govus said.
“Simply because we report to the state doesn’t mean they take action,” she said. “I would suspect that if they receive a report of two students that are 17 having sex, there’s not going to be a cop knocking on the door.”
The school district does not keep track of reports sent to DHHS, so it's unclear if employees were reporting on students' sexual activity before officials spoke about it at this year's mandatory training.
However, some see strict mandatory reporting as a potential breakdown of trust between students and staff. This group of people is demanding the school district stop the practice, which they say will end up hurting students and staff in the long run.
“This leaves students with no one,” Kimberly Scott, a student at McNary High School in Keizer wrote in the petition on Change.org. "The students no longer have that safe teacher they can talk to. Instead, the students must find a way to be sneaky and hide so that they don’t get reported, which could lead to several more issues.”
The petition had garnered more than 1,250 signatures as of Friday midday.
“I lose the ability to have a private conversation with a trusted adult who works for the district, about something personal to me,” Angel Hudson, a junior at McNary High School wrote in a letter to district superintendent Christy Perry, according to the Statesman Journal. “Talking about sexual activity between teachers and students should be confidential.”
A group of students recently protested outside Oregon’s Capitol steps.
Govus applauded the students rallying in Salem, saying it was “100 percent the right place to share these concerns.”
She added the school district has been in conversation with several legislators, who acknowledged they never intended to have such strict reporting requirements.
“We teach our students how words matter. The legislators are learning that their words are impacting our students,” said Govus, adding that she expects to see clarification around these pieces of legislation coming from the Capitol soon.