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MoCo School Board Approves Condom Distribution in All High Schools

Request will go to county Department of Health and Human Services

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By Daniel Schere

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend the county Department of Health and Human Services make free condoms available in all 25 county high schools.

DHHS announced last month that it would distribute condoms to the four school wellness centers, which are located at Northwood, Wheaton, Gaithersburg and Watkins Mill high schools. County Council member George Leventhal and school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse responded with a memo to DHHS County Health Officer Travis Gayles requesting the distribution be expanded to all high schools, which led to the board’s decision Tuesday.

It’s not clear when condoms will become available in high schools. In an interview after the meeting at Montgomery County Public Schools headquarters in Rockville, board President Michael Durso said the specifics of the distribution must still be worked out.

“When do I go to the health room? Do I have to be identified? Is there a limit? Can I just get them for a friend? There are details we have to work out so that students and our families are comfortable with it,” he said.

Board members agreed that it was important to communicate to the public that students would only be given condoms after speaking with a DHHS staff member or a school nurse about their level of sexual activity.

“Some think we’re walking around handing out condoms to people. That’s not what we’re talking about,” Ortman-Fouse said.

The condom initiative has come in response to a report from the Maryland Department of Health that showed a rise in sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea and chlamydia, young adults ages 15 to 29. At Tuesday’s meeting, Ortman-Fouse said the proposal was essentially a “safety measure,” similar to securing school entrances in order to keep intruders out.

“These are serious diseases, and the longer we wait, the more these students are susceptible to infection,” Ortman-Fouse said.

Board member Rebecca Smondrowski agreed, and said providing condoms presents an important opportunity to expand the scope of sexual education in high schools. She said she wants students to understand that sexually transmitted diseases can still occur when other forms of birth control are used.

“I’ve heard terrible stories of kids that are not using condoms when they’re having sex because they’re doing other things,” she said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Sunil Dasgupta, chair of the health and safety committee of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, urged the board to pass the measure, arguing that condom distribution was an issue of equity in addition to safety.

“STDs disproportionately affect teenagers of color and low-income families,” he said. “If the public system, including public schools and the public health department do not address equity, who will? My son goes to a middle school that is majority-minority, and I am confident that health education including condom distribution will not cause him to become promiscuous or somehow normalize sexual activity.”

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

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