An unlikely topic has taken over recent meetings of the Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education: abortion.
Community members have shown up in force to the last two board meetings to speak out against a forthcoming “Wellbeing Center” at Jordan High School after inaccurate rumors spread online that the center will provide abortions. District staff, though, have been clear that the center is intended to offer support and information to students about substance use prevention, mental health and sexual health—but not abortions.
Planned Parenthood staff will be involved at the center, and it appears that the organization’s reputation as an abortion provider may have helped the rumors gain traction.
The center, which will operate separately from the current Wellness Center at Jordan, will be staffed two days a week by Los Angeles County Department of Public Health staff, including two health educators, and one day a week by Planned Parenthood of LA, with a nurse practitioner and a medical assistant.
The controversy comes as dozens of similar well-being centers are in operation at high schools across the county. The center at Jordan, in fact, will be the 40th that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has opened over the last four years, and the county has plans for 10 more.
The North Long Beach community in particular was selected by the county health department “in light of need, based upon health data in the community,” said LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou.
In response to community pushback, district officials have been clear, including in a four-page fact sheet about the center, that abortions will not be performed, and staff will not be allowed to suggest abortion to students.
Still, the topic has taken over the last two Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education meetings, despite the fact that the Wellbeing Center has not been on either agenda.
Protesters have shown up to the meetings to make impassioned speeches against it, including some carrying posters with pictures of aborted fetuses.
Among the speakers at last week’s meeting was Melinda Ramsey, a math teacher at Jordan High.
“I want students in class. I want them to be able to be in class and not with Planned Parenthood personnel,” she said.
“Planned Parenthood should not be on campuses,” said Patty Jackson, another speaker. “Schools should focus on the basics of educating our children.”
Another Jordan teacher, Stephanie Perez, was also among the speakers.
“I’m not opposed to a Wellbeing Center, but I am highly opposed to Planned Parenthood on campus,” she said. “This Wellbeing Center is coming to our campus and tearing us apart.”
Because there was no agendized item on the Wellbeing Center at either board meeting, the board itself did not address the many community members who showed up to speak out against the planned center. The district declined to comment in a follow-up email, attaching its fact sheet instead.
At the December meeting, however, Assistant Superintendent Erin Simon gave a forceful point of clarification about what services would and would not be provided at the Wellness Center. At one point, she was interrupted by protesters.
“It’s a center that provides substance abuse prevention, resources, parent education around sexual health, delves into sexual health as well and also provides mental health services,” Simon said.
“Let me say this very carefully: They do not provide abortions. It is not an abortion clinic, nor is it a medical clinic,” Simon added. “Their services are mostly preventative and also help our students if they do have an STI with what their options are.”
Simon’s clarification, though, did little to assuage concerns.
For now, LBUSD staff have not indicated there are any plans to change course, and it appears the center’s opening will go on as planned next month.
The next LBUSD Board of Education meeting, meanwhile, will be Feb. 1.
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