Remember the days of standing at the school vending machine, overwhelmed by the variety of drinks and snacks it had to offer? Coca-Cola or Pepsi? Animal crackers or potato chips?
Students in 22 Philadelphia schools now have even more options to choose from.
During Christmas break, the district installed free condom dispensers at its high schools with the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The condoms are available to all students, as long as their parents don’t sign a form opting them out of the program. But the dispensers will not be closely monitored. Though the location of the clear wall dispensers seems guarded—just inside the doorway of the school nurse’s office—Philadelphia School District officials told nurses in an email that they were not responsible for managing access, according to The Inquirer.
"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."
The city created the pilot program as a way to address “an epidemic of sexually transmitted disease in adolescents in Philadelphia,” Donald F. Schwarz, the deputy mayor for health and opportunity, said.
The dozen city high schools that have “health resource centers” already dispense free condoms, and the Health Department also gives them away when they go in to city high schools to test teens for STDs. The tests take place annually, with a parent’s consent.
Dispensing condoms is the next logical step, Schwarz told The Inquirer.
But not according to the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), which has grave concerns about the policies set by Philadelphia schools.
According to Valerie Huber, NAEA president and CEO, the sex education priorities of Philadelphia public schools undermine parental rights and compromise the optimal sexual health of its students. Huber believes the teens would benefit more from an aggressive Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) Abstinence Education program that provides information, skills, and encouragement to choose a risk-free abstinence lifestyle.
“School policy-makers are ignoring research which shows that nearly 75 percent of students targeted for sex education (15-17 year olds) have never had sex—and most of those who have wish they had waited,” Huber said. “This data illustrates that students deserve—and resonate with—strategies that help them avoid sex or choose abstinence after being sexually active.”
The Philadelphia policy to distribute condoms on school grounds also puts teens at increased risk because it makes them think sex with a condom is safe, Huber said. Reports released by the Centers for Disease Control say two of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases are easily transmitted, even when couples use a condom.
“Teens deserve better,” Huber said, “and we hope that parents in Philadelphia schools demand a change in current policies.”