Montgomery County has approved the decision to provide free condoms to all of its 26 public high schools. The county displayed an interest in distributing them this year due to the recent spike in sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
STI rates were higher in 2017 than in 2016, specifically from chlamydia and gonorrhea, according to a press release. In Montgomery County alone, chlamydia and gonorrhea infection rates are at their highest that they have been in 10 years. While the entire state of Maryland saw an increase in chlamydia cases of nine percent, Montgomery County’s chlamydia rate rose by 17.5 percent. As for gonorrhea, there was a 29 percent increase in cases in the county, which is almost twice as much as the 15 percent increase across Maryland.
Montgomery County Public Schools began providing condoms on four high school campuses this year, including Wheaton, Northwood, Gaithersburg, and Watkins Mill. This is because each of these four high schools include a community wellness center, where students may be offered coordinated medical care, counseling, and positive youth development. It also offers mental health and social services that are available to students enrolled in the school and their families.
Nick Boboshko, a senior at Northwood High School, thinks that it’s a good thing that many people are helped by these centers.
“The wellness center is like a community clinic. It’s a benefit because it really gives kids a place to go to if something is wrong, and they might not be able to get to other places,” Boboshko said. “It has a certain environment that is really inviting and kids are really drawn to that. They also keep confidentiality, so that’s a big thing for people too. I’ve seen Northwood students and faculty go in there, and the center can also give people shots or test people for STIs.”
On September 27th, chief academic officer Maria Navarro and county health officer Dr. Travis Gayles hosted a virtual community conversation about condom availability and education in high schools at 7:00 pm on the Montgomery County Public School’s website. They addressed a variety of questions about the program from both students and parents.
“We want to make sure that the information we present to the community makes an impact,” Gayles said. “And we also want to remove barriers that may stop students from getting condoms. For example…some people can’t drive to the store, or can’t can’t afford [condoms].”
Students seem to have mixed feelings about this new program, and while some don’t mind asking the school nurse for condoms, others might be feel uncomfortable talking to a staff member about this topic.
“I think this program is beneficial in multiple ways, but just as everything has a benefit I also think there is a negative side to it,” said Tenudi Genana, a senior at B-CC. “Parents might disagree that condoms should be distributed in the school because we have young freshmen in the school aged 13-14, and I don’t think the school can make the call of distributing condoms to children without all parents being consensual. They might think that the program serves the idea that being sexually active in high school is ok. Personally, I don’t think your sexual life is something that should be discussed with anyone to begin with. I wouldn’t be open to going to the nurse and getting condoms for myself, but I feel like some people would.”
The Montgomery County Public Schools and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reached an agreement by October 1st that determined the details and procedure for the availability of condoms in all of the remaining public high schools.
The DHHS will distribute condoms to high school health rooms each month. The majority of the schools will receive at least 20 small brown paper bags, each of which will contains five condoms. The wellness centers will receive at least 40 bags of five condoms each. High school students will receive one brown bag of five latex condoms per visit to the nurse, as well as a short informational session on condoms, specifically related to storage, usage, and how they prevent the transmission of STIs. All visits to the health room will be recorded in the high school student’s health record. Parents will not be informed if their child visits the nurse to request condoms, as the law states that this is protected information.
Mrs. Dwyer, the head nurse at B-CC, is optimistic about this new program and believes that “The teaching points that we will share with the students who come to the health room for guidance will most definitely help the community. Education is a wonderful thing, and the more you learn the more you are empowered. Parents who are apprehensive about this program should really have an open dialogue with their kids and talk about this. Education starts at home, and we supplement it, so all of us should all look intrinsically into what it is about this program that might be bothering us and have those hard conversations with our kids.”
Ms. Dwyer is one of many voices in the county who believe that this program is mostly beneficial for students, and that this pilot contraceptive program should be available district-wide as soon as possible due to the troubling health statistics.