Kimberly Schott poses in a senior photo. (Courtesy/Kim Schott)
This profile is part of a series on Class of 2019 high school graduates. Salem Reporter asked high schools in Salem and Keizer to select an outstanding graduate – someone who accomplished something significant, whether through art, academics, advocacy or overcoming obstacles to graduate.
Kimberly Schott didn’t set out to change state law.
The McNary High School student was upset early in her junior year when she found out in the fall of 2017 that school staff were required to report as child abuse consensual sex between teenagers under 18 to Oregon’s Department of Human Services.
Schott learned of the issue because her health teacher talked about it in class. She was upset that the law would inhibit teens from speaking openly to trusted adults.
“My teachers do so much for me, I want to do something for them,” she remembered thinking.
Schott and classmate Marissa Dougall started a Change.org petition, intending to address the policy with the school board. It gathered steam quickly among students.
“Everyone got really fired up about it,” Schott said.
District leaders heard of her campaign, and Schott met with Superintendent Christy Perry to explain her concerns.
“She just was wise beyond her years. She knew what she wanted, she spoke eloquently,” said McNary Principal Erik Jespersen.
Getting the superintendent’s attention in a district the size of Salem-Keizer is rare, but Schott left an impression.
“She did her homework and knew her facts. She asked me hard questions, held me accountable for decisions, and then worked as an equal partner in seeking a revision to the law,” Perry wrote in a college recommendation letter for Schott.
The district’s directive was issued in October 2017 to all staff and told them report consensual sex between minors. It was rooted in state law, district spokeswoman Lillian Govus said, and came after leaders sought legal advice. At the time, other Oregon districts weren’t interpreting the law as strictly, though the Marion County District Attorney's office backed Salem-Keizer's interpretation.
“It wasn’t Salem-Keizer Public Schools’ shining moment in terms of public opinion. People weren’t pleased with how the legal position had us executing these statutes,” Govus said.
But the issue was with how state law was phrased, Govus said. Govus and Perry supported Schott and urged her to take her concerns to the Legislature in the spring of 2018.
“She was able to be the change agent that maybe we weren’t necessarily able to be,” Govus said.
Schott said because of the rule, she and her classmates felt they were under a microscope and had to watch what they said around adults in school about sex and relationships.
“I felt like there was a giant spotlight on all of us now and we had to be super careful,” she said. So she decided to go forward to the Legislature.
It’s was Schott’s first experience with advocacy, but adults she worked with said that didn’t deter her. She wanted to meet with legislators and ask them introduce a bill stating that consensual teen sex didn’t need to be reported.
“I don’t know if she’s that brave or if she just didn’t know what the state legislature can be,” Govus said.
Schott and Dougall met with state Rep. Bill Post and Sen. Sara Gelser and explained their concerns. In addition to deterring teens from talking to teachers and counselors, they were concerned the bill would prevent school staff from parenting their own children, since mandatory reporters must follow the law even when not at work.
Post and Gelser agreed to introduce legislation clarifying the law by saying consensual teen sex didn’t need to be reported.
Schott testified before legislators in support, did media interviews and answered tough questions from adults, all with calm and poise, Govus said.
“It was really empowering,” she said. She felt small, but also capable of making change.
“It opened my eyes to what I want to do with my future,” she said.
Over the course of the legislative process, the bill changed into defining an age of consent in Oregon, which proved more controversial than the clarification Schott sought.
The final bill left the mandatory reporting law alone, so the session ended without clarification.
But in September, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum issued an opinion saying that consensual teen sex didn’t need to be reported as child abuse so long as teens were close in age.
“It took like a full year for change,” Schott said. But she learned “hard work really does pay off.”
Schott grew up in Keizer, attending Gubser Elementary School and Whiteaker Middle School. She plays flute in her church band and is on McNary’s varsity lacrosse team.
Schott will spend the summer working and saving money for college before heading to Chemeketa in the fall. From there, she plans to transfer to Oregon State University and study business, with a German minor.
Aside from advocacy, theater at McNary has been her passion. With a few weeks left in the school year, she was performing” The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in the school auditorium. Her first show was “The Wizard of Oz”, and in the fall, she performed in “Grease.” She’d like to stay active in community theater, she said.
“I get to not be myself - I get to be someone else but that’s really fun,” she said.
Schott said her experience in the legislature has made her want to pursue elected office, though that’s farther out in her future.
“Nobody’s going to vote for an 18-year-old,” she said.
The district leaders she worked with said Schott’s push for change is exactly what they hope to see in students.
“I’m really proud of Kimberly,” Jespersen said. “This experience is the type of thing that will catapult her.”
Reporter Rachel Alexander: firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-575-1241.
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