2018 | Schools

County Officials Call for Contraception To Be Available at All County High Schools

Health department had announced plans to distribute condoms to only four schools

County Council member George Leventhal and Board of Education member Jill Ortman-Fouse.

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Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal and school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse are calling on county health officials to make condoms available in all 25 county high schools and to study the possibility of offering the contraception in middle schools.

Leventhal and Ortman-Fouse sent a memo Tuesday with the request to Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services Director Uma Ahluwalia, Health Officer Travis Gayles and Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith. The request came in the wake of a report released by county health officials earlier this month that showed incidences of sexually transmitted diseases are growing in Montgomery County faster than the statewide average and particularly in young people.

“We believe students and parents should be educated on the recent surge in STI [sexually transmitted infections] cases, risk behaviors and why the distribution of condoms is both a prudent and necessary precaution to prevent the spread of these infections,” Leventhal and Ortman-Fouse wrote in the memo.

DHHS announced earlier this month it would be distributing condoms in four high school wellness centers in order to address concerns over increased cases of sexually transmitted diseases among county residents ages 15 to 29. The wellness centers, operated by DHHS, are co-located at Northwood, Wheaton, Gaithersburg and Watkins Mill high schools.

The department also will expand access to STI screening.

Ortman-Fouse said Tuesday she and Leventhal sent the memo because of lingering concerns over the DHHS report including 2017 data that revealed sexually transmitted infections were at their highest at any point in the past decade, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, which saw 17 percent and 29 percent increases from 2016. She said the memo also was intended to get more information from DHHS about the costs and logistics of providing the condoms.

“I thought it was really important that we get resources, including condoms, out to our high schools as quickly as possible,” she said. “School starts next week, and we need to be educating our students immediately.”

Gayles said the department ultimately plans to have condoms available at all MCPS high schools during this school year.

“We are looking to utilize the four health centers to pilot test and utilize best practices, and then we will expand to a larger comprehensive plan that will include all 25 high schools,” he said.

He said DHHS is working with the Maryland Department of Health to supply 4,000 condoms per month. After the initial rollout, he said the department would look at the data in the report to evaluate whether contraception would be expanded to middle schools.

“This is the first time this has been done, and we really want to look at the data, and part of that will be spending some time and being very thoughtful in terms of looking at what the needs are,” he said.

Gayles said the condoms will be distributed in paper bags by members of each school’s health staff. He said after students describe their sexual health concerns to staff, condom usage is one of the recommendations that could be made.

“The expectation is that if students come into the health center to request them, if it’s related to sexual health concerns, it would be part of a conversation to address that sexual health concern,” he said.

Gayles emphasized the condoms also will be for students who want to be proactive about making sure they are having safe sex.

“Certainly if a young person were to say they’re sexually active and they say they’re interested in this for sexual protection, it would be part of that conversation,” he said.

Gayles, who came to DHHS last year, said he was unaware of whether condoms had been distributed before in MCPS schools. Baltimore City Public Schools currently has a condom distribution program, and Fairfax County Public Schools has adopted a new sexual education curriculum that encourages the use of contraception.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information on how condoms may be distributed in schools and to include the sites of four county wellness centers co-located with high schools.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com.