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updated: 6/10/2013 12:47 PM

Round Lake District 116 school health clinic would offer contraceptives

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Round Lake Area Unit District 116 will offer students contraception to prevent disease and pregnancy if a proposed health clinic is built at the system's high school.

It's the latest move connected with the planned school-based health center that has been in the works since 2010. District 116 already has a construction agreement with the Lake County Health Department, which was awarded a $500,000 federal grant to help pay for the building.

The health center serving Round Lake High School students would be the first of its kind in Lake County, District 116 officials said.

Proponents say providing primary health care -- not contraception -- would be the center's main focus, benefiting students in a district where most are from low-income families.

"The kids will come to school healthy and prepared to learn," District 116 board President Nanci Radford said.

However, Lake County Right to Life President Bonnie Quirke, who has been among the proposal's public opponents, contends birth control always has been the goal of the health clinic plan. She said she was not surprised to learn the District 116 school board recently voted 6-0 in favor of a resolution stating contraception should be prescribed and dispensed to prevent disease and pregnancy.

"All of this is going to be bourn by whom? Who pays for this? It's the taxpayers," said Quirke, a retired nurse and board member at Libertyville-based Cook Memorial Public Library District.

District 116 board member Kevin Daniels said while the vote in favor of contraceptives was significant, it was guided by the community. It also was the recommendation to the school board by a health center advisory committee convened by Nicasa, a Lake County substance abuse prevention and treatment organization.

Feedback from parents, other residents and District 116 staff showed strong support for the availability of contraception, according to a report by Jeanne Ang, the county health department's primary care services director.

Of the 351 respondents to surveys on the issue, 241 favored contraceptives and 110 opposed them. Officials said the surveys were available in English and Spanish.

Daniels said unplanned pregnancies and high school dropouts have been shown to be leading causes of District 116's high poverty rate. The availability of contraceptives at the proposed high school health center could help stem the problem, he said.

"I will tell you, I think it's good to give kids a choice," Daniels said.

But Quirke said the availability of contraceptives could have unintended consequences. Girls who believe they would be protected could wind up pregnant due to contraceptive failure, she said.

Health department spokeswoman Leslie Piotrowski said planning continues on medical services to offer at the high school and no decision has been made on specific forms of contraception that would be available. She said research shows the school-based clinics can reduce unplanned pregnancies through comprehensive health education and guidance for adolescents, not just contraception services.

Pupils would need a consent form signed by a parent or guardian to enroll at the health center, which is targeted to debut in early 2014. The Illinois Department of Human Services requires the centers to offer minor injury diagnosis, physicals, reproductive health services, abstinence counseling, cancer screening and other services.

Contraception availability is recommended for school-based health centers but not required by the state. Illinois law allows for a minor to receive an abortion referral from a medical provider, including school clinics, without parental notification.

Radford said parents who allow their teenagers to use the clinic would need to have discussions with them regarding the possible use of birth control.

"I'm a firm believer in the onus goes on the parents," she said.

Student health centers now operate at Maine East High School in Park Ridge and Evanston Township High School. Similar to what's proposed for Round Lake High, the clinics at Maine East and Evanston have ties to nearby hospitals.

Ang told the Lake County Board of Health in April that the center would focus on physicals, mental health, asthma and substance abuse. The clinic would use a collaborative model, with staffing from the county health department, Nicasa, Advocate Condell Medical Center and Vista Health System, she said.

Donations to the health center from the organizations could include services, staff or educational sessions, Ang added.

Proponents say the school-based health center is needed at the district where two-thirds of its 7,000 students qualify for free or reduced price lunches because they are from low-income families. About 70 percent of the student body is Hispanic.

Radford said obesity, asthma and diabetes are common health problems for District 116 students.

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