Elected trustees for a Houston-area school district are considering scrapping a longstanding plan to open a free medical clinic for students on one of its high school campuses, because of concerns about doctors potentially providing birth control and gender-affirming care.
Humble ISD, which serves an area northeast of Houston, signed a contract in November 2021 with regional hospital chain Memorial Hermann to create a healthcare center at Humble High School to be utilized by students there as well as those from some lower-level schools. The project has been delayed by construction-related issues, according to district superintendent Elizabeth Fagen, who said during a Sept. 12 school board meeting that she and Memorial Hermann wanted to explore the possibility of opening a temporary facility on campus before a permanent center could be constructed in 2026.
But board members instead discussed terminating the contract, because it includes "family planning" services and because of fears that Memorial Hermann physicians might provide advice or resources to transgender students. Trustee Chris Parker, one of the five current board members who voted to approve the contract in 2021, made a motion earlier this month to back out of the agreement.
Her proposal ended up being tabled until Humble ISD's next board meeting on Oct. 17, with trustee Marques Holmes saying he wanted more information before deciding.
"I want the clinic. I want care for kids. It's a great project," Parker said. "But for those two isolated words, family planning, I cannot support it."
Memorial Hermann said in a statement that it provides campus-based healthcare services to more than 80 schools in the Houston area and hopes to do so within Humble ISD "in the near future and for many years to come." The hospital system also said it "works closely with each ISD to determine the mutually agreed upon services that will be available at each clinic."
"In addition, we obtain written consent annually from a parent or legal guardian for the school-based clinics to provide any healthcare services," Memorial Hermann said. "As part of the options for consent, parents or legal guardians can refuse to sign if they don't want their child to access any of our services, or they may also opt out of specific services provided in the clinic."
Fagen reminded the board members that abortion is illegal in Texas and said family planning accounts for about 3 percent of the services provided at Memorial Hermann's other school-based clinics, adding, "They will discuss birth-control methods for students who require that and whose parents want that."
Board member Michael Grabowski said he worried that a treating physician would be bound by the Hippocratic oath to help a student who might say, "I don't want to be a boy or a girl anymore. I want to be the opposite."
A Memorial Hermann spokesperson said the hospital system does not provide gender-affirming care to anyone younger than age 18 at any of its facilities, including the school-based clinics.
"I think it's a fantastic idea and a community outreach," Grabowski said of a campus clinic. "I just think we need a new vendor other than Memorial Hermann, who has peddled in this type of surgeries and hormone blockers and other issues."
It is unclear whether Humble ISD would have the option to use another vendor for a free campus clinic. The planned center was the product of discussions between Fagen and the CEO for Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital about healthcare needs and trends in the Humble area, according to school district spokesperson Jamie Mount, who said, "No other healthcare provider has submitted a formal proposal."
A representative of the Northeast Hospital Authority, a governmental entity that committed $4 million for the campus clinic, told Humble ISD trustees on Sept. 12 that the organization was familiar with all the services offered when it agreed to provide the funding.
Fagen told the board members the district had asked about the possibility of removing family planning services from the contract before it was signed in 2021, adding that Memorial Hermann was not open to that because it is "part of their core mission to support the community."
Trustee Robert Sitton, who also voted to approve the contract two years ago, highlighted the fact the language in the agreement remains unchanged.
Bryant Lee, a local church pastor who spoke during the public comment portion of the Sept. 12 board meeting, told trustees he regularly interacts with underserved children and families in the Humble community and noted that some avoid going to the doctor because they lack health insurance or the money to pay for medical services. He asked the board members to "make haste" in opening the planned clinic and to not allow "politics" or other factors to get in the way.
"Poor families often will not send their kids to school for minor things, colds, what they think may be a flu," Lee said. "Often, kids show up in Title I schools not properly immunized. Our most socially and economically challenged will miss many school days, but having a free clinic on our campus for those in that feeder pattern will make a world of difference.
"I just want to say let's not delay, let's find a way to make it happen, even though we don't have all the space and all the pieces that we wanted to have happen," he added.