Photo Courtesy of The Current
Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) proposed a new health initiative to distribute condoms in high schools which was approved unanimously by the Board of Education (BOE), allowing free condoms to be available in all 25 MCPS high schools starting Oct. 1.
The Maryland Department of Health issued a report showing a rise in sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) in young adults ages 15 to 29, which is what prompted the free condoms initiative. Dr. Travis Gayles, the DHHS for Montgomery County issued an initiative with possible solutions to the rise in STI’s. One of the proposed ideas was making condoms available at the four wellness centers located in four MCPS high schools: Gaithersburg, Watkins Mill, Northwood and Wheaton High Schools.
BOE member Jill Ortman-Fouse said she recognized that all MCPS students should have access to free condoms and reached out to council member George Leventhal, who is the chair of the health and human services committee for the county council. Ortman-Fouse and Leventhal then wrote a memo about a week before school began to MCPS, Dr. Gayles and the head of DHHS, asking for the program to be expanded to all schools.
“These [STI’s] are serious diseases, and the longer we wait, the more these students are susceptible to infection,” Ortman-Fouse said in a Sept. 12 Bethesda Beat article.
The resolution was brought to the BOE and the initiative passed unanimously Sept. 13. MCPS and DHHS are working together to create a plan for the immediate implementation of this plan, though the majority of administrative action comes from DHHS since condoms will only be available in health rooms from a nurse, nurse tech or DHHS employees.
An email was sent Sept. 14 to all high school principals, and Sept. 24 to all MCPS community members detailing the upcoming plans to implement the initiative. Included in the email was an exemplar of frequently asked questions (FAQs) for parents and the community. MCPS also hosted a Sept. 27 virtual community conversation to address any concerns or questions about the upcoming process.
Starting Oct. 1, condoms will be delivered to high schools by DHHS in brown paper bags, with most schools receiving 20 paper bags and the high schools with wellness centers will receive around 40 bags. Each bag will contain around five condoms to be distributed per student per visit.
“The student will need to make an appointment with the school nurse for distribution and teaching, including reviewing that the most reliable way to avoid transmission of STI’s is to abstain from sexual activity,” RHS nurse Joan Grocki said. “I will have a sit down face to face with each student. Visits for this purpose are recorded, but are confidential.”
While visits have to be recorded, students’ parents will not be notified of the visit nor will parents be able to prevent students from obtaining condoms. Furthermore, students allergic to latex will be provided with alternatives. Students looking to receive another bag of condoms are allowed to do so but must complete the same process as obtaining the first bag.
“I think this will have a positive effect in our community because Montgomery County STI levels have incredibly peaked,” senior Giovanni Gutierrez said. “I think it will educate people on STI prevention and help students protect their health.”