Heated debate over birth control in middle schools

By Chris Campellone
November 8, 2007

Megan Pellegrino

Birth control medications are now available to middle school students in Portland, Maine after school officials approved the measure. The measure allows students who attend King Middle School to obtain a wide variety of birth control medications without parental permission or notification.

There has been no indication from schools in the Radnor area that they would approve a measure that would make birth control available to students.

The committee accepted the measure by an eight-vote majority. However, parents and school officials are extremely split on the debate. One parent noted in an article with the New York Times “this is really a violation of parents’ rights.”

The principal of King Middle School, Mike McCarthy, in a story that appeared in the New York Times defended the decision by stating that five of the 500 students at the middle school had identified themselves as being sexually active.

“In my opinion many of these types of decisions should be made at home and they should not be left up to the school districts to make,” Hank Coleman, a health and physical education teacher at nearby Carl Sandburg middle school, said.

The legal age of sexual consent in the state of Maine is 16-years-old. The average age of a middle school student is between 11- and 14-years-old.

King middle school may set the trend of more middle schools accepting measures, which make contraceptives available through student health centers.

One of the issues that making birth control available to students may arise is does it encourage already sexually active students to have safe sex or does it also encourage students who are not sexually active to experiment?

“It has been shown, over and over again, that this does not increase sexual activity,” Pat Patterson, the medical director of school-based health centers, said to the New York Times.

The protesters’ biggest concern with the school district allowing contraceptives in their health centers is that they believe these decisions should not be left up to the school. The sex education debate has been up for years, focusing on whether the responsibility of educating children about sex lies with the parents or guardians of the children or with the schools.

“Many of these decisions should be made at home,” Coleman said. “When a school district circumvents a family’s wishes, different issues arise.”

The supporters of this measure said that many students come from a difficult home life and some just need guidance.

The student health center is not supposed to encourage sex, but rather to provide students with protection who have already made the decision to engage in sexual activity.

The part of the measure that has most of the protesters upset is that no parental permission or notification is needed for the student to obtain birth control.

“I would not want contraceptives to be handed out in the school my child attended,” Coleman, a father of three children, said. “If my child obtained [birth control] I would insist on wanting to know.”

The Portland School District did not comment on what kinds of birth control were being made available in the student health centers.

Chris Campellone

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