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Let them have condoms

oposed condom availability program for Buffalo's public high schools equal parts sensible and necessary

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One out of every four children born in Buffalo’s East Side is the result of a teenage pregnancy. The area, which is home the highest concentration of students attending Buffalo public schools, is also host to a teen pregnancy rate more than double the nationwide average of 10 percent – and even the latter number is the highest rate among the developed world.

Clearly, Buffalo has a birth control problem.

But fortunately, this problem has a solution that is straightforward, inexpensive and far from unprecedented – the Buffalo school district has recognized this and proposed implementing a condom availability program at all public high schools.

It’s a solution that would not only address the issue of teenage pregnancy but also sexually transmitted diseases. The Erie County Department of Health reports an “extremely high” number of incidences of gonorrhea and chlamydia among 15 to 19 year old girls, according to The Buffalo News. The county’s rate of infection is markedly higher than the upstate New York region and the state as a whole.

National studies reveal even further need to help supply students with protection from sexually transmitted diseases – only 22 percent of sexually active high school students have ever been tested for HIV, according to the CDC.

The district’s proposed condom availability program is a refreshingly logical response to a predicament that clearly requires attention, considering that nationwide, 46.8 percent of surveyed high school students have had sex as of 2013 and the number of Buffalo public high school students who have had sex without a condom has increased from 30.8 percent in 2011 to 35.5 percent last year.

Buffalo is far from the first area to face this problem. If its proposed program is implemented, the district will be following in the footsteps of schools throughout the country – public high schools in New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia, to name a few – and instituting a solution that has been proven effective by multiple studies.

One such study, conducted in 2011 in Massachusetts, found a 47 percent decrease in rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia among students attending a high school with a condom availability program. Students at a nearby school without the program experienced a 23 percent increase in infections.

The program’s precedent and demonstrated effectiveness is supplemented by its simplicity, and its attention to students’ individual situations and needs.

If implemented, the program would require that every high school in the district offer students access to condoms – with some important caveats. Students would be required to meet one-on-one with a health professional at school – a far cry from the baskets of condom perched on the countertops at UB’s clinics.

This is a critical step in the program’s effectiveness – not only does the state require that schools provide sufficient instruction to students, but it also helps increase the odds that students use condoms correctly and gives students the a safe space to ask other questions or share concerns.

Considering that “how to put on a condom” is the first option on Google auto-complete after typing in just the letter “h,” this information seems to be in high demand. Students deserve the chance to ask a health professional rather than a search engine.

The program also caters to concerned parents, who could choose to opt their children out of the program. While the more conservative opinions of parents who support abstinence-only education and view the availability of contraception as an invitation for students to have sex shouldn’t influence district policy. The district must respect parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit.

So many of the problems that plague Buffalo’s public schools are practically unresolvable, mired in financial woes, withdrawal of support and failed attempts at change. But this issue – one the most serious predicaments that affects some students, since unexpected pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases can have life-altering implications – has an attainable solution. To deny that to students would be nothing short of inhumane.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com


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