Boston school board to vote on condom policy

China Photos/ GETTY IMAGES

China Photos/ GETTY IMAGES

The Boston School Committee is set to vote tonight on a controversial health policy that would make condoms available in high schools in the district. The policy, which aims to counteract the spread of H.I.V./AIDS and other STIs, prevent unwanted pregnancy and encourage healthier sexual activity, proposes that students be counseled by trained staff members when condoms are distributed. However, parents would be given the chance to opt their child out of the program.

According to Jill Carter, the executive director of Boston Public Schools health and wellness department, the program would also require that students receive similar sexual health education to that which is already available in roughly 60 percent of the district s high schools. Students would then decide if they wanted access to condoms, in which case they would receive counseling from community health partners, or trained staff members at each high school.

If the proposal passes, Boston would be alongside cities such as New York and Los Angeles in the decision to make condoms available in public schools. The trend for more in depth sex education in schools began 20 years ago, but progress has since slowed. While the number of schools providing condoms has increased in recent years, a 2006 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that condoms were provided in just five percent of the nation s high schools.

Studies indicate, however, that students are having sex with or without condoms being distributed in schools. A 2011 survey by the Boston Public Health Commission found that 54 percent of Boston s high school students had had sexual intercourse. This number is slightly higher than the national rate in the same year, which was 47 percent. Of these sexually active students, 40 percent said they did not use a condom during sex.

Some opponents to the policy feel that these forms of sex education may not just educate, but encourage sexual activity. This is not based on any evidence, however and while sex education and condom distribution is on the rise, teen births are down and many think that education is the reason.

While the proposal was presented at a hearing this month without criticisms by committee members, the Archdiocese of Boston issued a statement that it is very concerned about the new proposal. However, this decision will ultimately be left up to the seven board members of the Boston School Committee.

ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan comments, Young people are getting information about sex, whether or not it s being offered in schools; their sources range from venues such as the media, omnipresent internet porn sites, or peers. We need to be realistic about the number of teens having sex in high-school whether we give them condoms or not. The fact is that providing accurate information to teens, as well as providing them with a method of contraception, has the potential to be beneficial in ensuring that if teens do chose to have sex, they are doing so safely. The Boston School Committee would be wise to implement this policy.