Matt Purple | Correspondent | Monday, October 29, 2007
On Oct. 17, the Portland School Committee voted 7-2 to begin distributing prescription birth control pills and patches to students in grades 6 through 8 at King Middle School.
Parents must give permission for their children to receive health services from the school clinic but will not be notified if their child requests and receives prescription birth control services there. Students in grades 6 through 8 are generally 11 to 13 years old.
The Christian Civil League of Maine called on Maine Attorney General G. Steven Rowe to investigate "possible criminal activity" at King Middle School. The group pointed to a Maine law that makes sexual intercourse between two persons legal only if both partners are at least 14 and the age difference is no more than five years.
Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, told Cybercast News Service the school's assertion that students had come to the health center and admitted to engaging in sexual activity suggested the commission of a crime.
"What we are seeking is an investigation because the law is so clear, and there's an admission here by officials of illegal activity," Heath said.
The Associated Press reports that Amanda Rowe, the head nurse for Portland public schools, said five students who used the health clinic at King Middle School last year reported having sexual intercourse.
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 13 percent of middle-school students in Maine admitted to having sex in 2005. King Middle School has since reported that the five sexually active students were all either 14 or 15 years old.
But Heath said that the ages of students who admitted to having sex in previous years were still unknown.
"If any of them are under 14 years of age, then they're committing a crime under our law," he said.
On Friday, Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson questioned the practices of the King Middle School health center and demanded that health-care providers start reporting cases of underage sex to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
"The health-care provider has no discretion in the matter. It's up to the district attorney to decide," she said, according to the Portland Press Herald.
"It's clear that it's going on all the time," she added. "Either the law is going to be enforced or it needs to be changed. I don't think a law should be routinely violated."
Douglas Gardner, director of Portland's Department of Health and Human Services, told the Associated Press that in the past, Portland's school-based clinics have had no official policy about reporting sexual activity by children under 14. "Moving forward, we will report to the letter of the law," he said.
The two members of the Portland School Committee who dissented from the new birth-control policy, John Coyne and Benjamin Meiklejohn, are reportedly crafting alternative proposals that would prohibit giving birth control to students under 14.
Heath said that the school board seemed reluctant to deal with the issue.
"The members seem to be digging their heels in," he said. "There doesn't seem to be a real desire to accommodate change."
Neither King Middle School nor the Maine Department of Health and Human Services immediately returned phone calls.
One voice absent from the debate over King's birth control policy is that of Attorney General Rowe, who has yet to respond to the controversy or to the legal issues raised by the Christian Civic League.
He is also married to Amanda Rowe, the head nurse for Portland public schools, who is at the center of the controversy.
"It is beyond comprehension that [the attorney general] does not know about this criminal sexual activity in the Portland Middle Schools," said Mike Hein, administrator for the Christian Civic League.
Rowe has served as attorney general since 2001 and previously served a term as speaker of the House in Maine's Democrat-controlled state legislature.
Maine's Office of the Attorney General told Cybercast News Service that they had no comment on the current controversy and that Rowe was not presently taking phone calls.
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