Boston’s public school district approved a significant change to its wellness policy on Wednesday night: High schools in the area will begin providing free condoms to the district’s 17,000 teenage students, along with more information about safer sex.
Now, students will be able to get the contraceptives from any of Boston’s three dozen high schools, as well as from some school staff members. Students will receive information about safer sex practices before they receive condoms. If parents object, they may opt their children out of the program.
“I’m elated. It’s a long time coming,” City Councilor Ayanna Pressley said after the new wellness curricla passed.
The expanded sexual health resources are part of a broader push to combat rising rates of sexually transmitted infections in Boston. School district officials are hoping to standardize comprehensive sex ed across middle and high schools, and state lawmakers are considering legislation that would mandate statewide standards for sex ed classes throughout Massachusetts.
Before Wednesday’s vote, only health centers could hand out condoms, which limited the practice to the few high schools in the city that actually have health centers. That policy was first adopted in the 1990s as a compromise between AIDS prevention activists and the powerful Archdiocese of Boston. The Catholic Church has historically opposed expanding access to contraception. Although it has moderated its position somewhat when it comes to preventing the spread of HIV, it continues to crack down on efforts to equip young adults with sexual health resources. Just a few months ago, students at the Catholic-affiliated Boston University faced punishment after distributing condoms on campus.
Other cities like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia have also taken steps to ensure that sexual health resources are more accessible to public school students. In New York City, where an especially aggressive teen pregnancy prevention program has made condoms and emergency contraception available to high schoolers, the teenage pregnancy rate has plummeted.