The ultimate barrier
PUSD subcommittee goes to update language on condom program, realizes there isn’t one
By Sara Cardine 08/02/2012
On Tuesday, members of Pasadena Unified School District’s Board Policy Subcommittee will meet to update language in the district’s condom availability program for high school students. According to board policy, the program allows students ages 14 to 18 to get free condoms from school nurses on campus and details exactly what nurses are to do and say before distributing the contraceptives.
Created in 1995 to reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, namely HIV, among sexually active teens, the program should now be in its 17th year.
But in truth, no condoms are being distributed on any school sites, and officials admit it appears the program was signed off on but never actually started.
“We found the [policy] from 1995, and thought ‘Oh my God, we didn’t even know we had this,’” said Ann Rector, who’s been coordinator of health programs at PUSD for six years. “We don’t distribute condoms. The nurses tell me a lot of kids come in the office looking for condoms and they send them to Planned Parenthood on Lake Avenue so they can get more education.”
To institute the program in accordance with the policy, board members will have to vote to create the program anew, a process that could likely delay implementation until the 2013-14 school year, Rector says, unless members vote against the program altogether. This revelation comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released results of a nationwide survey on teen sex and condom use that showed more kids are using condoms than 20 years ago, but not as avidly as they were at the turn of the century.
Even if the district were to enact the policy and create the condom distribution program, some Pasadena students and HIV/AIDS workers in the community expressed doubt that teens would jump through the many bureaucratic hoops stipulated in the policy itself — including advice on abstinence, instructions on condom use and cautions against statutory rape and other illegal sexual activity.
“I don’t think many students will go to the school nurse to get condoms,” 15-year-old John Muir High School sophomore Logan Patton says in an email interview. “They will probably have a friend get them, or just buy it themselves at a store, if they don’t have any already.”
By the book
BP 5141.25, the original board policy on condom availability in schools drafted nearly two decades ago, states that the prophylactics should be made available to male and female students at PUSD high schools along with advice on proper condom use, the effectiveness of abstinence, protection against HIV and identifying unlawful sexual activity.
This information is to be delivered directly to students by a district health care professional, who is also required to maintain a confidential list of students whose parents have opted to have their children excluded from the program to check before dispensing condoms.
Board Policy Subcommittee chair and Board Member Kim Kenne said Friday she had not heard specifically about the condom program and was not aware that condoms were being made available to students. The subcommittee, she added, exists functionally to make the board more productive by bringing policy language up to speed with changes in state and federal law as well as the California Educational Code. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 3 p.m. and is open to the public.
The board policy states the district is to make available written information encouraging abstinence, providing manufacturer’s instructions and a list of local resources for HIV/AIDS and STD education and testing to inquiring students.
Chief among those resources would be the Pasadena AIDS Service Center, which recently combined its support services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS with the clinical services offered by the city’s Public Health Department. The center does outreach to schools and provides free condoms and STD information, but ASC Executive Director Anthony Guthmiller says condom availability for teens in general isn’t that widespread in Pasadena.
“We always have condoms available at our front counter. They are also available at some community centers and through some after-school programs, but not very many,” he adds.
Efforts to get information and protection in the hands of sexually active teens is important, Guthmiller says, in light of the fact that four in 10 of the nation’s new HIV infections each year are people under 30, with heterosexual women ages 17 to 24 accounting for the highest infection rates.
“Education is still lacking when it comes to sex education and condom use,” Guthmiller adds. “Teens have the impression that with improved medication, contracting HIV isn’t a big thing — they’ll just ‘take that cocktail thing’ and be fine.”
No glove, no love
When correctly and consistently used, condoms are highly effective at preventing pregnancy and the transmission of STD pathogens, the CDC reported last week at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. In the past 20 years, the number of teens who reported using a condom in their most recent sexual encounter rose from 46 percent to 63 percent, according to the center’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a biennial survey of public and private high school students.
That number bears out to Abraham Medellin, a 15-year-old junior at Pasadena High School.
“From what I hear, I would say yes, condom use is pretty regular,” Medellin says. “In our generation, sex is everywhere. [It’s] mainly in television, so in the shows we watch, we see the consequences of not being safe. So that prompts us to being even safer.”
The CDC survey showed the most improvement in condom use among black students, whose condom use rose from 48 percent in 1991 to 65 percent last year. Hispanic students, by comparison, went from 37 percent to 58 percent in the same time period, while white students reporting condom use went from 46 percent to 60 percent. For all subgroups, however, the use of protection during sex has declined slightly from figures taken in 1999 and 2007.
“We’re encouraged by the progress we see over time in reducing HIV-related risk behaviors, especially among black youth, but we have more to do,” Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention, said in a release issued last week. “Risk behavior remains far too high among all students, and it’s clear that to realize our goal of an AIDS-free generation, parents, schools and communities will need to intensify efforts to ensure that every young person in America knows about HIV and how to prevent infection.”
Among local efforts to educate teens is a peer-to-peer program being conducted by the AIDS Service Center that’s expected to begin next month. Workers train selected youth to be “dialogue starters” in the community, who then talk to friends and fellow students and report back on what they’re finding to make services more relevant to young people.
As for PUSD, Rector hopes to bring the condom availability program back to the board for a vote in coming months. She envisions that, if approved, this time around parents and students will be plugged into a comprehensive, prevention-focused program.
Guthmiller says whatever the program, the procurement of condoms by teens needs to be as easy and painless as possible, or teens won’t bother. That’s something Medellin agrees with.
“There is always that awkwardness when it comes to asking for condoms, especially as a teen. There’s pressure to remain abstinent until marriage and, of course, religion and several other factors. As for going through a process [as explained the PUSD board policy], I think it’s highly unlikely.”