Condom Distribution a Good First Step, More Steps Needed

Matthew DiFonzo, Sports Managing Editor

The number of sexually transmitted infection (STI) cases throughout Montgomery County has reached the highest seen in decades, according to the county Health Department. Due to these startling statistics, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has launched an initiative to distribute condoms in schools in hopes of putting a halt to the increase of STIs. MCPS made the right decision in allowing for condoms to be available throughout middle and high schools in order to prevent the spread of STIs and to promote safe sex.

MCPS has joined a number of school systems nationally, including schools in the District of Columbia, that have provided access to condoms to protect against disease and unwanted pregnancy. In Montgomery County alone, Chlamydia cases rose by 17.5 percent from 2016 to 2017, and Gonorrhea cases rose by 29 percent in students between the ages 15 and 29, according to data from the Center for Disease Control.

While this move by MCPS is commendable, it is important they closely track school data and share the results with each community to determine if teens are actually using the program.

The student will need to make an appointment with the school nurse for distribution and teaching.   –nurse Joan Grocki

Condoms were initially distributed in a pilot program at four high school wellness centers: Gaithersburg, Watkins Mill, Wheaton and Northwood. However, a recent memo sent by councilmember George Leventhal and school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse requested that the program be expanded to all 26 high schools in MCPS. The memo also stated that the condoms would be implemented in the county’s 40 middle schools.

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.

One immediate concern is that teenagers, who often struggle to discuss their sexual lives with adults, will avoid a sit down with the nurse, a required step to receive these condoms.  While the idea makes sense because a trained professional can share advice and data with teens before they engage in sexual activity, in reality kids may avoid this meeting rendering the program questionable for some.

This is why it is imperative the school track data and share it in an open community forum similar to how other large school systems have. A comparison of public high schools in New York City (NYC) and Chicago found positive effects of condom availability programs, according to an article published by the Advocates For Youth, a nonprofit organization and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. With the same sexual activity among high school seniors in both cities (NYC, 59.7 percent and Chicago, 60.1 percent), sexually active students in NYC, where there is a condom-availability program, were more likely to report using a condom at last intercourse than those in Chicago, where condoms are not available in schools (60.8 to 55.5 percent).

It is important they closely track school data and share the results.

With the new condom implementation, the number of MCPS students practicing unsafe sex will hopefully decrease, and students will begin to understand the importance of safe sex, but the data will need to be closely reviewed in order for the effects of the program to be determined.

In addition to the distribution of condoms, it is imperative that health teachers include a unit in all of their courses which incorporates the real MCPS data for the entire school system. By using the real data from MCPS, students are more likely to retain the information as it is directly impacting their schools and peers. Health teachers should continue to stress the importance of safe sex with the frightening rise of STIs in Montgomery County, including many teens in MCPS high schools.

MCPS made a good decision regarding the implementation of condoms after the STI outbreak, but additional steps still need to be taken. Analyzing real MCPS STI data and adding it to health courses will further benefit their students and preserve their future.