Gervais County Schools in Oregon will start making condoms available to its middle and high school students next year—a move that comes after a year in which nine young girls between sixth and 12th grade became pregnant.
Before they leave with condoms, the students will have to talk to designated teachers at their school, who will reinforce prevention messages.
The decision seems to be drawing the most attention for allowing condom distribution to students who some people feel are too young, but the district’s superintendent, Rick Hansel, noted that the plan makes sense for logistical reasons, and also because one of the young women who got pregnant this year was a middle school student, so the need was there.
CBS News did talk to one parent who did not approve of the measure, but school officials say they haven’t heard much opposition.
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Molly McCarger, a school board member who also has four daughters in the district, said that she thinks the program is necessary.
Oregon has one of the more comprehensive sexuality education laws in the country. Schools must teach sex ed that includes information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV in both elementary school and secondary school. In fact, the law mandates that students must get instruction on this topic at least once each year in grades six through eight,
and at least twice each year in high school. There is no required curriculum that schools must follow, but there are statewide guidelines districts need to use when designing their own program. The program must be balanced, age-appropriate, medically accurate, and sensitive to both culture and gender. It must be developed in accordance with the latest scientific evidence, provide success and failure rates for contraception, and allay fears about HIV that are not grounded in science. And though the program should promote abstinence for school-age youth as the safest way to prevent STDs and unintended pregnancy, “abstinence must not be taught to the exclusion of other material and instruction on contraceptive and disease reduction measures.” An amendment to the law, which went into effect in January 2013, also requires schools to teach about dating violence.
Overall, young people in Oregon fare well in terms of sexual health. Rates of unintended pregnancy, births, and abortions are all below the national average, as are rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV among young people. Still, it seems that Gervais is facing a teen pregnancy problem—the nine girls who became pregnant this year represented 5 percent of all girls in grades six through 12. According to media reports, 7 percent of girls got pregnant last year, which would be about 13 girls if the total number of students didn’t change drastically between years.
Making condoms available may well be the way to go. In October 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a strong statement in support of making condoms available to teenagers both in school and in communities. The group based its new guidelines on research that shows access to condoms does not increase sexual activity but does increase condom use, as well as research showing how well condoms can prevent STDs.
The guidelines read in part:
Schools should be considered appropriate sites for availability of condoms because they contain large adolescent populations and may potentially provide a comprehensive array of related educational and health care resources.
Combined with comprehensive sexuality education, making condoms available to students and requiring a one-on-one conversation with teachers before a student can get condoms will hopefully help cut down on unintended teen pregnancies in Gervais in the future. That is as long as the district continues to face little opposition to this new program.