Condom access: Parents push for input, SAD 61 tables proposal

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Joey Austin still remembers the “shameful” look on a classmate’s face when their eyes met at a local grocery store checkout line.

The classmate was purchasing a box of condoms.

Austin, who was a cashier, suspects the teen was wondering whether he might tell others what he saw or was trying to figure out who the teen was going to have intercourse with.

“I wanted to say you are making the right decision to protect yourself,” said Austin, who is a senior at Lake Region High School. “I wasn’t going to ridicule him.”

Embarrassment and fear of losing a sense of confidentiality are reasons many teens shy away from buying condoms at local stores, thus leading them to engage in unprotected sex.

Austin, who is a student representative on the SAD 61 School Board, supports the idea of condom distribution through the high school’s nurse’s office.

Several parents, however, think otherwise.

Robert Neault of Naples feels parental input on the subject is warranted before the school opens the door to condom distribution. Others questioned whether the school should be involved in the matter at all, calling distribution of condoms “inappropriate” and possibly circumventing parental authority. Many believe approving the concept Monday would be a “rushed” decision, and parents should be part of the equation in regards to their children receiving free condoms.

“We have to sign a permission slip for our children to receive an aspirin, why not a condom?” Neault asked.

Directors voted 5–4 to table the item until their June meeting, which will allow time to hold a public forum on the subject.

Bridgton Director Peter Morrison expressed his disagreement with not bringing the issue to the public’s attention earlier in the consideration process. He made it a point to contact local media after the board’s last meeting to inform the public the idea of free condom distribution at LRHS was being considered.

“It needed to be done. I felt this was a hot button issue and that the public needed to be notified,” Morrison said.

Protecting student health?

Since she became the school nurse at Lake Region High School four years ago, Karry Joly has often heard from students that they were having “unprotected” sex and they were having sexual relations with multiple partners.

“They talk to me in confidence,” Joly said.

She uses those private talks as “teaching moments,” discussing the risks of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as the potential of teen pregnancy. She also encourages students to discuss matters with their parents. Yet, many teens feel uncomfortable discussing sex with their parents.

“I can’t stop it (sex) from happening, but I can help keep them safe,” she said. “I’ve heard a number of stories that kids don’t have the money to buy condoms. Kids don’t think about not having money to have a baby.”

Protection is the key to keeping teens healthy and safe, which is the reason Joly suggested to school officials that LRHS offer free condom distribution. The idea went before the school board’s Personnel Committee over a year ago because the act (distributing condoms) would be a change in the nurse’s job description.

Joly said Maine’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) would provide the condoms free of charge and “with no strings attached.”

Teachers and school physician, Dr. Wenda Saunders, spoke in favor of the proposal.

Jamie Riel, a student advocate and science teacher leader at LRHS, listed various statistics — from 46% of high school students engaged in sexual intercourse to 13.8% have multiple partners to 21–22%% drink alcohol or use drugs — to demonstrate the need for such a program.

He added that studies also show that free distribution of condoms does not increase sexual activity.

He applauded Joly for having the “courage and heart to bring the issue to our table.”

One LRHS student said access to condoms is a “safer option to keep kids safe” than what teens presently have at their disposal.

LRHS teacher Mary Hubka, who was a family planning counselor, said many parents spend a lot of time warning their sons and daughters about the dangers of drinking and driving — even emphasizing to them that if they do drink, they should call their parents for a ride home — yet shy away from the topic of using condoms to prevent contracting STDs and avoid pregnancy.

Hubka said the nurse’s office provides students a confidential place to access condoms, while also putting them in touch with a healthcare professional who can talk about their concerns.

Parents, however, had differing views.

Jim Marstaller of Naples pointed out that some statistics mentioned were national figures, and not reflective of what is happening in Maine. He pointed out that Maine is 50th out of 50 states when it comes to the lowest number of births amongst teens, and on the STD front, the state is 49th out of 50.

Neault took the idea a step further, suggesting school officials conduct their own survey to generate figures specific to SAD 61.

Marstaller encouraged the board to postpone action on the issue until parents had a chance to review the school’s proposal report and then given the opportunity to offer the board some feedback.

Paul Hoyt of Bridgton pointed out that teens can access condoms in a variety of locations from “here to Portland and back,” and “school is not the place to give out condoms.”

Brad Boos of Casco was concerned that the proposal was being ushered through too quickly and “parents are being circumvented.” He also questioned whether a nurse would supersede parents’ and guardians’ authority when it comes to decisions for kids under the age of 18.

Dr. Saunders, who is the parent of two teens, has seen cases of STDs every year. She agrees that parents should initiate conversations with their children regarding protection, if they do engage in sexual activity.

“Talk about it at home, early and often,” she said.

James Corrigan of Naples raised concerns whether other birth control measures, such as the “morning-after pill,” could ultimately be distributed at the school, as well.

School officials reiterated condoms would be the only birth control device distributed.





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