JEWELL — The Jewell School Board on Monday narrowly affirmed its support of a school-based health center in a bid to keep Clatsop County from pulling out.

County health staff had secured a grant worth $60,000 a year to operate a health center on the rural campus starting next school year. The health center would offer primary care, alcohol and drug counseling and mental health services.

The county left out reproductive health services to avoid the controversy that sank a similar proposal in the Astoria School District in 2013.

Jewell accepts grant to open health center

The Jewell School District could get a health center.

But Michael McNickle, the county’s public health director, recently announced the county would withdraw from Jewell because of a perceived lack of support.

The health center has repeatedly been opposed by school board members Brian Meier and Michael Stahly, who have raised concerns over safety, cost and government intrusion. Bryan Swearingen, the school board chairman, and board members Ginger Kaczenski and Michael Wammack have supported the center as a way to encourage preventative care and reduce absences. Superintendent Steve Phillips has also come out in support.

Last month, the school board voted 4-1 to have parents decide whether their children could be seen at the health center. Meier was the lone opposition, raising concerns over language in the policy options.

McNickle has focused on opposition by Meier and what it could mean about the community’s perception of the health center.

“We don’t want to have that level of distrust,” McNickle said. “I figure this anger must be coming from somewhere. It puts me in a difficult position when my provider says she’s not comfortable being out there.”

McNickle has remained open to moving forward with the health center if the school board is supportive. Phillips, hopeful the school district can salvage the project, called for a discussion Monday to get the school board’s consensus before reporting back to the county.

Swearingen and Wammack remained in support of moving forward with the health center. Kaczenski was not at the meeting, but Swearingen said he had reached out and affirmed her support. Stahly said he would favor looking at the health center next year, while Meier said nothing had changed for him.

“All I’m going to say is they’ve had approval every time they’ve asked for it, and I personally wouldn’t want to deal with an agency that basically pulls out and throws a fit,” Meier said.

Phillips said he plans to report that a majority of the school board supports the health center.

As of last year, there were nearly 80 school-based health centers in 25 Oregon counties. Studies have shown the centers help reduce absenteeism, tardiness and behavioral issues.

The Astoria School Board, facing a backlash by some residents concerned over reproductive health services and parent permission, voted in 2013 not to move forward with one. The Knappa School Board recently bowed out of pursuing a grant this school year after the public expressed concerns over location, safety, access, quality of providers, extra foot traffic, drug deals and child abuse.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Daily Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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