My Fox Philly announced on Sunday that the School District of Philadelphia would be staying busy during the holiday break. 22, roughly one-third, of Philadelphia high schools have installed clear plastic condom dispensers in their schools in an aggressive effort to fight “an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in the city,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The Philadelphia health department is funding the pilot program in area schools with the highest sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates. 12 schools are currently offering condoms in resource centers, and the new dispensers will be installed inside the nurses’ offices so that the condoms are even more widely available.
“It’s a pilot designed to address an epidemic of sexually transmitted disease in adolescents in Philadelphia,” said Dr. Donald F. Schwarz, the deputy mayor for health and opportunity. Since April 2011, the city has given away about four million condoms. “Less than 60 percent of kids who are sexually active report having used condoms the last time they had sex,” Dr. Schwarz continued in an interview with the New York Daily News. “We want to get to that 40 percent who haven’t used a condom.”
Schwarz pointed out that an alarming 25% of new HIV infections in Philadelphia are young people between the ages of 13 and 14. In 2010, the city saw an almost 50 percent increase in gonorrhea and chlamydia cases among young people. Philadelphia has given out four million condoms since April 2011, and the process has coincided with a drop in sexually transmitted disease rates, Philly.com reports.
“The reality is: Many of our teenagers, regardless of what adults think, are engaged in sexual activities,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told the Inquirer. “Discussion about whether or not they should be sexually active is an appropriate discussion, but if they are, then we need to make sure they’re engaged in safe sexual practices.”
“We’re trying to build an education program and provide something that some young people who, having made a decision to engage in sex, should want to have rather than not,” Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter’s press secretary, told the New York Daily News.
Fox had a hard time finding like-minded parents to interview. Most of the parents who have children attending the targeted schools aren’t delighted that teens are so sexually active, but recognize it as reality and feel that having easy access to condoms is a very practical idea that offers safe options.
The initiative originally sparked outrage among parents who believe that handing out free condoms will encourage teens to have more sex. Concerned parents will have the right to “opt-out” from their child having access to the condoms.
Michelle DiSalvatore’s daughter goes to one of the schools, and says:
“In today’s world, it’s a fact that teenagers have sex. And you know, I don’t like it.” She later added, “Not when I went to school. That was taboo. Nobody even talked about it too much. Times have changed.”
Dionne Graham, whose son is a student at Bok High School, said:
“It’s a good thing actually because they’re doing it they’re having sex to ignore it is stupid.”
The Lucero family of West Philadelphia doesn’t see eye to eye on the issue:
“That’s a good idea because kids are sexually active,” mother Elizabeth Lucero said. But her husband said, “I don’t agree with it. It’s kind of like promoting it, a way of advertising sex.”
A nurse at Lincoln High, Peg Devine, is not participating in the pilot program, but has grave misgivings. She supports making condoms available to sexually active students, but she worries about the ability of nurses to add yet another task to an already heavy workload. Dobbins and High School of the Future do not have full-time nurses. Devine also said:
“I just can’t imagine the parents of a 14-year-old being happy with this.”
Philadelphia School District officials emailed school nurses and said the dispensers would be installed “just inside the doorway near the entrance to your office.” The email explained that nurses would not have the responsibility of managing access.
At lease 418 public schools across the U.S. make condoms available to students, according to Advocates for Youth, a group that educates and assists young people in matters of sexual health. But only three percent of those schools use vending machines.
“Opt-out letters are to be maintained by the school office,” Assistant Superintendent Dennis W. Creedon wrote. “Students are to honor the wishes of their parents. If a student disrespects their guardian’s directive, that is an issue of the home.”
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