Having sex as a teenager has become a reportable offense in one Oregon school district that recently notified its teachers of a law, mandating them to report suspected activity—even if it involves their own children.
Officials in the Salem-Keizer School District, the area encompassing Oregon’s state capital of Salem, issued new rules to its teachers in late October to clarify the reach of Oregon statute 163.315. The statute provides that a person under 18 is incapable of consenting to sexual activity. California has a similar age of consent law; however, the Oregon school district’s interpretation of its law has sparked controversy.
The school district says that the law – intended to protect against child abuse –requires all school district employees who have “reasonable cause” to believe that a student is having sex to report the activity to the Department of Human Services, law enforcement, or a school resource officer. Failure to report could result in a fine, investigation by the state, and could result in losing your teaching job.
“It’s criminal not to report,” Lillian Govus, a spokeswoman for the Salem-Keizer School District told the Statesman Journal newspaper. “People’s careers are at stake here.”
Examples of reportable acts include:
- A 15-year-old student tells you that she is having sex with her boyfriend and would like information on birth control options;
- A 14-year-old boy confides in you that he was kicked out of his house after his parents found out that he was in a same-sex relationship, and that he has had sex; or
- You overhear students talking about a weekend party where another student “hooked up.”
According to the Statesman Journal newspaper, the Salem-Keizer School District remains the only district in the state which has implemented a blanket policy for teachers to report a student’s suspected sexual activity under the existing law. Critics say that the district’s rules can damage the trust needed between teachers and students seeking information, guidance, or help with sensitive issues involving their sexuality. Students have led a protest at the state Capitol in Salem. Other protests are planned.
In California, the age of consent is also 18; anyone under 18 is not legally able to give consent for sexual activity. Additionally, California does not have exceptions for underage individuals close in age, so-called “Romeo and Juliet laws,” meaning that two minors who engage in consensual sex could, technically, be prosecuted, although this is very rare. Criminal prosecutions involving underage activity and issues of consent more commonly center on violations of Penal Code section 261.5 or Penal Code section 288(a), committing lewd or lascivious acts with a minor under 14.
Penal Code section 261.5, as relevant here, provides:
(a) Unlawful sexual intercourse is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator, if the person is a minor. For the purposes of this section, a “minor” is a person under the age of 18 years and an “adult” is a person who is at least 18 years of age.
(b) Any person who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is not more than three years older or three years younger than the perpetrator, is guilty of a misdemeanor. (Other states may recognize a close-in-age exception; California does not.)
(c) Any person who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony . . .
(d) Any person 21 years of age or older who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is under 16 years of age is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three, or four years.
California has an extensive list under Penal Code section 11165.7 of individuals identified as “mandated reporters,” who are required by law to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to authorities. The list includes teachers, instructional aids, classified employees at public schools, day camp and recreational center administrators, among others. California schools; however, have not issued any policies requiring teachers to report when students are suspected of sexual activity. In fact, a number of school programs have sought to provide appropriate information and resources to help with such sensitive topics as sexuality.
Northeast Valley, one of the largest health corporations in the country, runs a teen health center at San Fernando High School. The center provides testing for sexually transmitted diseases and other information. Ellen Monaco, a family nurse practitioner at the clinic, told the Los Angeles Daily News that she talks to all students about STDs, even if they come in with a headache.
“Because we have the trust with them, we have a very low census of STDs here,” Monaco told the newspaper. “Every high school should have a confidentiality program so they can feel safe.”
 Natalie Pate, Salem-Keizer staff told to report student sexual activity, including their own kids, STATESMAN JOURNAL, Oct. 31, 2017, available at http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/education/2017/10/31/oregon-mandated-reporter-salem-keizer-staff-told-report-student-sexual-activity-including-own-kids/798865001/
 See information at California Age of Consent, available at https://www.ageofconsent.net/states/california
 Susan Abram, Sexually transmitted diseases surge in California, LA DAILY NEWS, Oct. 21, 2016, available at http://www.dailynews.com/2016/10/21/sexually-transmitted-diseases-surge-in-california/