Portland School Birth Control Controversy

Emily Douglas

The Portland School Committee voted 7-2 on Wednesday night to allow the health clinic at King Middle School to provide prescription birth control to students.

A hail of controversy fell upon a middle school in Portland, Maine, when its school committee voted 7-2 on Wednesday to provide prescription birth control to middle schoolers as young as eleven. The first middle school in Maine to make full range of contraceptive options available, the King Middle School may be among the first middle schools in the United States providing a broad range of contraceptive options, said the National Assembly of School-Based Health Centers.

The school's nurse, Amanda Rowe, had proposed the policy change after five students out of a student body of 134 told her that they were sexually active. Parents need to sign consent forms to enable their children to use the school health center, and will be notified of the full range of health services offered and the confidentiality requirements to which the clinic adheres. But the details of the students' treatment and care will be kept confidential.

Of the three middle schools in Portland, King is the only one with a school health clinic, primarily because it has a high percentage of students who are eligible for a free or reduced-price school lunch, an indication of family poverty.

The health center at King Middle School has offered condoms since its inception in 2000, and high schoolers have had access to birth control pills and other contraceptive methods since 2003. Patches, injections, and Plan B will all now be offered at King Middle, but diaphragms and IUDs are not usually prescribed, said health officials. Prepubescent children couldn't obtain prescriptions, and school health workers would provide follow-up care for students who do obtain birth control prescriptions.

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Critics of the school committee decision have suggested that when students as young as eleven present to their school nurse as sexually active, nurses should contact the Department of Social Services rather than prescribe birth control. Others have alleged that a school nurse's right to distribute birth control undermines "responsible" families.

But some policy supporters understand that the realities of children's lives today have become much more complicated and communications hurdles within families more intractable. The Portland Press Herald reported that King Middle's principal, Michael McCarthy, "said the change is meant to help a few King students who, for whatever reason, have no other access to reproductive health care."

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