Mount Anthony Union High School board approves program making condoms available to some students
BENNINGTON, VT — The Mount Anthony Union High School board has voted to move forward with a program that would make condoms available for some students.
Board Chairman Tim Holbrook thanked Kristyn Harrington, MAU's coordinator of clinical services, and everyone else who had worked on bringing the program to this point. Harrington said she had sent a letter describing what the school was trying to do and a survey had been sent to parents and guardians regarding how they would like the program to work. "We got 83 surveys back by the deadline," she said, "The five questions were designed to give us feedback on how we might implement the condom availability program, and how parents and guardians would feel about each of those different aspects."
The first question regarded whether parents should have the ability to opt their children out of the program – 41 percent of respondents thought an opt-out should not be available, while 49.4 percent felt that they should have that right. The second question asked what level of education a student should have to receive before they would be eligible to receive condoms from the school, with 41 percent of respondents disagreeing with the idea that a student should have to have a conversation with a health professional at the school about safe condom use and sexual health before they could participate in the program, while 47 percent felt that that conversation was important and should be a requirement. "This question was really getting at the idea of, should we have condoms available anonymously somewhere for kids to be able to access on their own, independently?" said Harrington, "Or should it be connected to a teachable moment and educational opportunity with a trained adult?"
The next question asked whether parents agreed with the statement, "Health education, including an educational component regarding the effects of high risk behaviors in sexually active adolescents be available." The vast majority of responders, about 97 percent, agreed with that statement.
The fourth question involved who at the school should be authorized to distribute condoms. The survey showed 88 percent were comfortable with the school nurse having that ability, 60 percent of parents were comfortable with a school-based clinician, 54.4 percent with health teachers, 48.2 percent with school counselors, and only 22.9 percent wanted administrators to have that ability. The final question simply clarified whether the respondent was over 18 and a parent or guardian of an MAUHS student.
Harrington said there would be both a male and a female staff member designated to speak with students and distribute condoms, so that students could choose the gender with whom they would be most comfortable speaking. "Those faculty would be trained specifically on how to educate a teenager about condom use and safe sexual health decision making by Kathleen O'Reilly, who is a Vermont Department of Health nurse who has been working on this project," said Harrington.
In response to a question from board member Ed Letourneau, she said the economic dangers of a pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection for young people would be discussed as well.
"What we're trying to do tonight is trying to get a program initiated," said Holbrook, "We all realize that there are many bridges to cross before we finally get there, but we've got to start someplace, and this is the place where it starts."
The board voted to approve the implementation of the program at the high school with only two members, Fran Kinney and Leon Johnson, opposed.
The Mount Anthony Union School Board typically meets the third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the Mount Anthony Union Middle School library. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.
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