Salem-Keizer students Kimberly Schott and Marissa Dougall didn't expect their protest with about 15 other students to trigger legislative change.
The two McNary High School juniors spearheaded an online petition and rallies against the requirement that all Salem-Keizer School District employees report any sexual activity involving minors, even if consensual.
When Schott first spoke with the Statesman Journal in October, she was under the impression the decision was a new district policy.
"At most, I thought we'd just annoy the school board," she said.
However, she soon learned the requirement is based in state law. Schott and other opponents are now calling for legislators to change this aspect of mandatory reporting and child abuse laws.
Schott and Dougall went to the Oregon State Capitol Monday morning with McNary Principal Erik Jespersen, Superintendent Christy Perry and district spokeswoman Lillian Govus.
The students toured the Capitol and met with Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer. Post and Gelser are crafting a legislative clarification to be taken up by the Legislature during its short session in February 2018.
Under current law, any person younger than 18 is unable to give consent, so any sexual activity is considered abuse and needs to be reported by mandatory reporters, which includes school teachers and staff.
The laws are meant to identify and prevent child abuse, but the district's clarification of the law is being criticized for being applied to sexually active, consenting teens.
Gelser and Post volunteered to clarify the law with new legislation, which they told the students Monday they expect will pass easily.
The provision will be added to a bill Gelser was already drafting to address problems with the abuse and neglect of severely and persistently mentally ill adults and those seeking substance abuse treatment, the senator said.
Gelser said they will "make it perfectly clear that consensual sex between teenagers does not need to be reported to law enforcement or (the Department of Human Services) by teachers or parents."
She showed Schott and Dougall a draft of the bill when they met.
The students also plan to meet with other state leaders, including Rep. Jodi Hack and Sen. Jackie Winters, both Salem Republicans. Hack told the girls earlier she is supportive of their work and wants to help in any way she can.
"Change is already happening," Schott said. As of Monday, the students' online petition had garnered more than 4,400 signatures.
For Schott and Dougall, the experience has meant more than changing one law. Both students said they are now interested in doing something in politics after they graduate.
"We're already making a difference," Schott said. "Imagine what we could do with actual jobs." Dougall agreed, saying they were getting real-life experience they can't get from class.
"There are two types of people in the world — those who look for problems and those who look for solutions," said Jespersen, McNary's principal. "These two recognize something they don't agree with and they are ... doing the work to change it."
Perry described the students as "all that's right with our students."
Speaking on behalf of the district's nearly 42,000 students, as well as bringing administrators and legislators from both major political parties to the table, has left a large impression on Schott and Dougall.
The students had planned to take their campaign to the Salem-Keizer school board Tuesday night, but changed plans Monday saying it doesn't seem necessary anymore.
"We're uniting everyone," Schott said. "It's really cool."
Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.
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