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N.Y.C. Condom Program Violates Parents' Rights, Court Says

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New York City's schools chancellor, Ramon C. Cortines, has proposed a change in the district's condom-distribution program, after a state appellate court ruled late last month that the program violated parental rights.

In what observers said was the first ruling of its kind for school condom programs, the appellate court--the state's second-highest court--found that condom distribution in the schools is a health service rather than an educational service, and, as such, must offer an "opt out'' mechanism to parents.

The program, which was introduced in February 1991 by then-Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez, makes free condoms available to the city's public high school students. Schools must also provide health counseling to students who request condoms, including information about their use and misuse.

Parents, along with a member of the board of education, Michael J. Petrides, first brought the case against the district in May 1992, alleging that making condoms available to all students violated parental rights to determine how their children should be raised.

Writing for the court majority, Justice Vincent Pizzuto said, "Supplying condoms to students upon request has absolutely nothing to do with education, but rather is a health service occurring after the educational phase has ceased.''

A dissenting judge said in her opinion that many students do not have parents "to provide guidance and discipline.''

"Since the consequence of contracting the AIDS virus is death,'' wrote Justice Geraldine T. Eiber, "providing practical protection against the spread of the virus that causes it, to a high-risk population ... outweighs the minimal intrusion into the parent/child relationship of the more protected, fortunate population of New York City.''

Mr. Cortines has started drafting a new program that meets the demands of the court.

Opt-Out Option

Under the new policy, a letter from Mr. Cortines would be sent to all parents of high school students, explaining the condom program. Attached to the letter would be a form that parents could complete if they do not want condoms to be available to their children.

Parental-consent forms would be kept on file by student I.D. number, to insure students' privacy.

The opt-out option would not be available to parents of students who are 18 or older, married, or otherwise do not need consent.

The board of education probably will vote on the new policy in the next few weeks. Mr. Petrides has indicated that the consent clause will most likely be accepted.

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