During open forum at the regular Kiowa County Commissioners meeting on Monday, a group of county residents voiced concerns about Kiowa County Health Dept. staff and cards that had been given to area students offering them free condoms and confidential reproductive services.
"In regards to what has taken place, we made this decision after lots of thought and deliberation," said Kiowa County Health Dept. Director Mitzi Hesser. "I know as parents some of you are upset about what took place. Because of some of the trends we have seen in our office, we felt like we needed to somehow get it out there so when they make decisions about their lives and their sexuality, that we will be there to help them."
Some county parents voiced concerns at the end of last week, when they discovered that their children had been given a card by health department staff, offering them "assistance with birth control options, pregnancy tests or std tests," as well as information on how to confidentially obtain free condoms.
Health Department employees had tables at the clinics in Haviland and Greensburg last week where area students were receiving required physicals.
"Where I had the biggest issue was that the commissioners didn't know about it, the school didn't know about it, the clinic didn't know about it and the parents didn't known about it," said Ryan Kendall, who has three school-aged children. "This seems like a big decision to make [without consulting them]. There was no discussion about 'is this ok?' Even though you are in the health department, these are my children."
Kendall also said he felt the health department had been secretive and covert in distribution of the cards. "It seemed like you wanted to get these cards out, and hope the parents didn't find out," he added.
Trent Jacks, a father of three school-aged children, said he was upset that a 10-year-old girl had received one of the cards.
"You've used this action to expand the role of government into our home and into our children's lives, "said Jacks reading from a written statement. "Your actions are offensive and they usurp the authority of parents to educate their kids."
Hesser said that they had distributed the cards, along with water bottles and texting while driving information to junior high school and high school-aged students only.
She also said that they had decided to hand the cards to everyone who came to the table, instead of picking and choosing; for fear that they would have to guess or ask who was sexually active.
"Did we make a bad choice, that is a very good possibility," said Hesser. "Will we reconsider this? Absolutely. We thought we had a good way to do it."
Page 2 of 2 - In response to a question, Hesser added that no one was required or forced to take the cards and that the table was not part of the clinics physicals. She estimated that staff members had distributed about 80 cards over a two-day period.
The business card-sized cards direct people to a small locker in the county courthouse that contains condoms and information on birth control and health services.
Hesser said she had been on the phone with a number of the parents last Friday and over the weekend.
"In the little bit of time I've spent in Haviland, I've learned the culture, "said Haviland Superintendent Mike Couch, who spoke at the hearing. "I lived in Pratt for 14 years and I had no idea of the cultural and spiritual values of that community. I do feel this maybe didn't fit with that community. But, I'm here because I want to help you, you've helped our kids in many other ways and I'd like to work with you. I do understand where the parents are coming from. Let's resolve a situation that can't be undone and let's look for ways to do it better."
Hesser was asked what the department would do in following years.
"We will take your comments to heart but there is nothing that says we ever have to do this again. We'll look at other ways and other options. We'll keep trying until we find a better way."
The commissioners remained largely silent during the exchange, through District I Commissioner John Unruh, whose constituency is concentrated in Haviland and eastern Kiowa County, did ask Hesser some questions about the perceived secrecy of her departments actions.
"I've known Mitzi for many years," commented District II Commissioner Don Richards. "She wouldn't do anything on purpose to harm anybody."
After closing the public forum, he commended the parents for taking the time to voice their concerns. "I've been through three generations of small children. It isn't an easy job."