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School-based health centers in question in McHenry County, more popular across nation

School health centers illustration for web only.
School health centers illustration for web only.

WOODSTOCK – One McHenry County school district this week will be deciding the fate of a school-based health clinic, a trend growing more common across the country in recent years.

A clinic planned by Woodstock School District 200, now in question after a legal review found a stipulation that raised concerns among school board members, would have been the first in McHenry County.

Across the nation, there are roughly 2,300 school-based health centers serving students, according to a 2013-14 census report from the School-Based Health Alliance, a membership organization that supports such clinics.

“Right now, the number in Illinois is 66,” said Heidi Ortolaza-Alvear, director of Child and Adolescent Health Initiative, later adding, “There has been a steady incline.”

The number of centers nationwide has risen by 30 percent since the 2010-11 census and by more than 100 percent since the late 1990s, the report said.

Terri Wright, director of the Center for School, Health and Education, said health clinics in schools have improved access to health care for kids, citing research that showed higher GPAs and lower absenteeism rates.

The local center was scheduled to open in August, but board members earlier this month expressed discomfort after finding out that the clinic could not lawfully require parental consent for certain services, such as testing for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Under state law, children age 12 and older can seek those services without their parents.

School board President Camille Goodwin said the clinic initially was put on the table to offer convenience to parents who need to get physicals and inoculations for their kids.

“Also, the mental health aspect was very attractive to us,” Goodwin said. “Teens and preteens have a lot of issues, so we felt it was beneficial to have that piece.”

However, when it came time to approve the agreement between the district and Community Health Partnership of Illinois, board members opted to table the item in order to explore options that don’t include pregnancy or STD testing.

To the northwest, another Illinois school district grappled with the same thing about six months ago, the superintendent of South Beloit Community Unit School District 320 said.

At South Beloit High School, the health clinic, run by the University of Illinois, has been open since 1999, Scott Fisher said.

However, it wasn’t until after a recent audit that the district took away its required parental consent to be in compliance with the law.

“Our board had the same issue,” he said, adding that the district’s policy is to inform parents about what services are offered and what the district is allowed to tell them before a student gets signed up for the clinic.

The other aspect is encouraging students who do receive those services to open up to their parents, Fisher said.

“A lot of times, with some counseling, the kids want to tell their parents,” he said.

Without being able to require the consent specifically for those services, the local clinic could be shut down before it started, District 200 Superintendent Mike Moan said.

He said he expects some discussion on other options Tuesday night during the board meeting, but if the agreement is not approved, a school-based health center as it originally was planned will not be established at Woodstock North High School.

If that’s the case, Moan said it will take more time to decide where to go from a fully functional health center.

“It’s going to take a longer period of time to come up with a concrete plan,” he said, later adding, “They want to hear from me and look at, if we can’t do this, what can we do?”

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