Measure To Allow Portland Middle School To Provide Birth Control To Students

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Birth Control

The Portland, Maine, School Committeeon Wednesday voted 7-2 to approve a proposal that will allow studentsat a city middle school to access prescription birth control, the New York Times reports. The measure, proposed by the Portland Division of Public Health, will require the independently operated health care center at King Middle Schoolto provide students in grades six through eight with a range ofcontraception and counseling for sexually transmitted infections, LisaBelanger, an administer for Portland's student health centers, said(Elliott, New York Times, 10/18).

Students will berequired to get permission from a parent or guardian before beingtreated at the center; however, services provided at the clinic arekept confidential in accordance with state law, the AP/Google.comreports. Students also will be required to undergo a physical exam by anurse practitioner or physician at the center before receiving birthcontrol prescriptions, Belanger said.

According to AmandaRowe, head nurse in Portland's school health centers, five of the 134students who visited King's health center during the 2006-2007 schoolyear reported having had sexual intercourse (AP/Google.com, 10/18). King Principal Mike McCarthy said about five of the school's 500 students have reported being sexually active (New York Times, 10/18).

Other Middle School Contraceptive Programs, Reaction

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Although many proposals for contraceptive programs in middle schoolsacross the U.S. have been rejected due to parental opposition, healthcenters at six middle schools in Baltimore and four in Seattle havebeen providing birth control with "little fanfare" since as early as1990, USA Today reports.Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein said there has been a73% drop in the city's teen birth rate from 1992 to 2005 in partbecause of birth control access. Seattle's program to providereproductive services to high school students and some middle schoolstudents also has helped reduce the teen pregnancy rate with "littleconcern or dismay," T.J. Cosgrove, program manager at Public Health-Seattle and King County, said (Koch, USA Today, 10/19).

Portland'sproposal "came about from kids self-reporting that they were sexuallyactive," Douglas Gardner, the director of Portland's Health and Human Services Department,said in a statement, adding, "Clearly they are too young to be engagedin sexual intercourse, but the reality is that they are sexuallyactive. It is our responsibility to offer a full range of primary careservices to students." Rowe said the service is "needed," adding, "It'sabout very few kids, but they are kids who don't have the sameopportunities and access as other students" (FoxNews.com, 10/17).

CommitteeChair John Coyne, who voted against the measure, said, "At some pointthere needs to be a clearing of the gray lines" between the roles ofparents, social agencies and public schools. Committee member BenMeiklejohn, who also voted against the measure, said the parentalconsent form does not sufficiently define the services being providedat the health centers (AP/Google.com, 10/18). Maine Gov. John Baldacci(D) said, "I appreciate local officials trying to address a need in amedically appropriate way, but these are children," adding, "Anappropriate balance must be struck addressing the troubling situationthat a small number of students find themselves in and recognizing therole that parents and other family members should play" (Harkavy, AP/Guardian, 10/18).

Topeka, Kan., School District Stops Condom Distribution Program

In related news, the Topeka, Kan., Public School Board of Education on Wednesday discontinued a program at Topeka High School that provided no-cost condoms to students, the AP/Wichita Eagle reports.The school stopped distribution of the condoms after the end of theschool day on Tuesday. The condoms had been available in a wickerbasket at the school nurse's station, in addition to information abouthow to use them and no-cost HIV testing, the AP/Eagle reports. The school received about 100 condoms in both September and October from the Topeka AIDS Project. All the condoms were dispensed within a week of their arrival each month.

Interim Superintendent Terry Sandlin said Topeka High School's principal was unaware that the condoms were available until a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter asked about it (AP/Wichita Eagle,10/18). When asked if anyone would be disciplined as a result of theprogram, Sandlin said the school district would use it as a learningexperience, the Capital-Journal reports.

"I wantour parents and community members to know that while I am sensitive, aswell as knowledgeable as to the AIDS and STD epidemic infecting ouryouth and appreciate the efforts of the Topeka AIDS Project, thedecision to distribute condoms or any type of birth control in a publicschool is not one that should be made in isolation," Sandlin said. Headded, "It must be made with input from Topeka Public Schools' Board ofEducation, the District Citizens Advisory Committee, parents of ourstudents and members of our community" (Bush/Stoll, Topeka Capital Journal, 10/18).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyWomen's Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for emaildelivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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