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N.Y. Board To Reconsider Unrestricted Condom Distribution

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Six months after adopting the most liberal school-based condom-distribution program in the country, the New York City Board of Education has decided to re-examine its decision not to give parents a chance to exclude their children from the program.

At a meeting earlier this month, the board voted to debate during a September meeting whether parents should have the chance to exclude their children from the program.

The board adopted the unrestricted policy by a 4-to-3 vote in February. At the time, several members said they were interested in re-examining the opt-out issue at a later date. (See Education Week, March 6, 1991.)

Under the program, students in each of the district's 120 high schools will be able to obtain condoms on a confidential basis from male and female staff volunteers according to a set schedule. Students are not required to be counseled or instructed about the use of condoms at the time they request them. Such information will be available upon request.

Lisa Bohen, a spokesman for the district, said that all the district's high schools had developed condom-distribution plans, and that staff members in 16 schools had already begun training and would begin distributing prophylactics this fall.

Chancellor's Criticism

The board's latest move was criticized by Mr. Fernandez, who had proposed the unrestricted condom plan as a way to reduce the incidence of aids in the city.

"The board's decision today to vote in September on a parental opt-out amendment will severely undercut the effectiveness of this vital plan, thereby placing at risk the lives of thousands of adolescents," the chancellor said. "The board's effort to reopen debate on the plan at this time can only be viewed as an attempt to scuttle it."

But Carol Gresser, the board member who is sponsoring the opt-out amendment, said: "I don't think I'm derailing his proposal. I'm enhancing it."

"I believe that parents, who are ultimately responsible for their children, must have a voice in some thing like this," she added.

In a related development, the Philadelphia School Board has adopted a policy to allow condoms to be distributed at some high schools beginning this fall.

The condom-distribution policy, part of an overall program adopted by the board in late June to reduce the incidence of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including aids, among teenagers, would begin in selected high schools. Parents would be allowed to veto their child's participation in the program.

Non-school health-care and social-service providers will distribute the condoms and provide counseling, the policy said. School officials said many details, such as which schools will distribute condoms, and which agencies or organizations will actually provide the services, have yet to be decided.

Also under the program, the district will develop a pre-K-12 curriculum that will promote healthy behaviors, including sexual abstinence.

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