(PHILADELPHIA) — Philadelphia is installing condom dispensers in 22 city high schools where students as young as 14 will be able to receive condoms for free in an effort to combat an “epidemic” of sexually transmitted disease among the city’s teenagers.
Students returning to school from Christmas break will find clear plastic dispensers filled with condoms in the offices of nurses whose schools have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
“We believe distributing condoms is part of our obligation to keep students healthy and to remain healthy,” said school district spokesman Fernando Gallard. “The health department has described this as a continued epidemic of STDs among teenagers in Philadelphia.”
Condoms have in the past been provided to students in Philadelphia as part of wider program in which the teenagers are provided “free, voluntary and confidential” testing for sexual diseases in their schools, Gallard said.
It was the results of those tests that led officials to launch the current program to distribute condoms regularly in schools instead of once a year when the tests are administered.
Of the 130,000 students who have received testing in the last five years, some 6,500 or 5 percent of them have tested positive for diseases including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Parents were made aware of the distribution program in October and were given the chance to opt their children out of receiving the prophylactics.
Gallard said the school district has not received “specific calls” from parents objecting to the program. The total number of parents who chose to disallow their children from receiving condoms, however, is unknown.
According to Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit organization that advocates for sexual health among young people, there are at least 418 schools nationwide providing condoms.
In August, despite outrage from some parents, the school board in Springfield, Mass., approved a plan to distribute condoms in public high schools, as well as middle schools, providing free contraception to students as young as 11.
Philadelphia has plans to expand condom distribution to more schools, but has no plans to introduce prophylactics to middle schoolers, Gallard told ABC News.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Meera Senthilingam, CNN
Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com
Debbie Bryce, Idaho State Journal
Susie East, CNN