Philadelphia High Schools to Install Free Condom Dispensers
When Philadelphia high school students return to the classroom after holiday break, many will find that school officials have installed free condom dispensers in order to fight what health officials call, "an epidemic of sexually transmitted disease in adolescents in Philadelphia", the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The dispensers will be placed in 22 schools across the city, specifically at schools where students have the highest rates of STDs. The only way students cannot access the free condoms is if their parents sign a document that opts them out of the program.
"Opt-out letters are to be maintained by the school office," Assistant Superintendent Dennis W. Creedon wrote in an email. "Students are to honor the wishes of their parents. If a student disrespects their guardian's directive, that is an issue of the home."
Since April 2011, when the city began giving away what has become more than four million condoms, STD rates finally have been dropping. Donald F. Schwarz, the deputy mayor for health and opportunity, says that HIV among high school students is still far too high, with 25 percent of new infections coming from Philadelphia teens.
"The reality is: Many of our teenagers, regardless of what adults think, are engaged in sexual activities," Mayor Michael Nutter told the newspaper. "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."
The free condoms will be available at a third of Philadelphia's high schools. Reactions have been mixed.
"I just can't imagine the parents of a 14-year-old being happy with this," Peg Devine, a school nurse at Lincoln High, which is not one of the schools with the condom dispensers. Schwarz, however, said, "if a teenager wants to use a condom, they should have access to a condom."
"We don't want kids to either not use them - have the dispensers and no one touches them - or to have hundreds of condoms taken and used inappropriately, for water balloons or something like that," Schwarz added. "But they'll be supervised." He went on to say that there is not going to be a campaign to promote the free condoms.
"We're going to allow word of mouth and the Internet and social media to start this off," Schwarz continued. "We don't want to make kids uncomfortable in any way, but we think it's an important intervention. We have a good track record here, and we're hoping to build on that, in a measured way."