“It’s clear that all individuals agree that students can benefit from behavioral health and medical services,” board President Andrea Heitz said in explaining her vote Tuesday night. “But what is clear is that this issue is related to raising other issues.”
Those other issues are reflected in the buffet of reasons listed in the public opinion against school-based health centers. Some people who spoke to the board cited a violation of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or Tabor, and said approving money for the school may have violated single-objection rules because the ballot measure did not mention the health clinic. Other commenters said the clinic should be across the street or the clinic could override parental consent. A few speakers discussed the fear of gender-affirming care being taken in high schools.
Supporters of the center said there is a need for access to health care for students, especially low-income students. Advocates for the center include doctors, teachers, students in the district and many parents.
“When you live in poverty, you understand that you don’t have access,” Jennifer Reyes told the board. “School-based health centers provide services.”
The center is modeled after the same school district in Central High School. Marilac Health staff who work at the Central High School clinic have been explaining what they are doing to improve concerns about the clinic.
Behavioral health provider Steven Martinez advises students to talk to their parents, not to step aside, and Dr. Rosa Gardner, a physician assistant, has made it clear that the health clinic does not provide abortions, hormone therapy or complex psychiatric treatments.
Obviously there are a lot of things we don’t do at Warrior Wellness Center. I am not a surgeon. “Steven is not a psychiatrist,” she told the board.
Gardner also touched on parental leave issues. Under Colorado law, only minimal licenses are required for treatment of sexually transmitted infections, drug addiction and reproductive health. Less than 1 percent of visits to the health center are related to reproductive health, Gardner said.
“I would say that 50 to 60 percent of the parents of the students I work with know about birth control. “They can see me quickly, so it’s easier for them to get to school,” she said.
The board’s early rejection of the clinic drew a backlash from the community. Heights is the subject of a recall attempt to collect enough signatures to put her job on the ballot. That effort lists the health clinic controversy in the bill. Haitz mentioned that pressure in her remarks Tuesday after she voted to support the clinic.
“Everybody understands and knows that these services are needed. We often vote no on ballot measures because we don’t agree on the language. I think it’s very misconceived to be pigeon-holed into saying we don’t value those things we’ve voted against — because some of us have worked so hard to find alternatives.”
The health clinic’s decision, approved Tuesday, differs somewhat from the original proposal. The previous version said the clinic was run by MarylakeHealth and clearly referred to the facility as a school-based health center.
Tuesday’s decision indicates only that the center will be on the Grand Junction High School campus, although the clinic will be incorporated into the new school and operated by MarillacHealth as originally planned. There was a brief discussion of whether the change in language was intended to allow for flexibility in planning or to hinder the clinic’s goals. The board’s decision essentially turns that decision over to Superintendent Brian Hill.
“In hopes of finding a mutually satisfactory solution, we are now assigning the task of establishing a safety center to Dr. Hill. Dr. Hill, along with others, will ensure the most effective approach to student safety at Grand Junction High School, taking into account the unique context of D51 and all input.” It may or may not match the expectations of some of us.”