D.C. Health, Superintendent At Odds Over Condom Distribution

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The District of Columbia's public-health agency has pre-empted Superintendent Franklin L. Smith's desire to let parents of public school students bar their children from receiving condoms under the city's new AIDS-prevention program.

When parents learned this month that nurses in the city's high schools would begin distributing condoms on request, Mr. Smith said he hoped that they would be able to request that their children not receive them.

However, Pat Lambe, a district spokeswoman, last week acknowledged that Mr. Smith does not have jurisdiction over the school nurses or the activities that occur within health offices on school campuses.

"Our authority and responsibility extends to, and not beyond, the educational part of this [program],'' Ms. Lambe said.

School nurses are employees of the health commission, not the school district, officials said.

Under the program, approved last year by Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and the school board, school nurses will dispense condoms to students who request them and who have completed a "rather lengthy'' counseling session, said Caitlin Ryan, the chief of the health commission's AIDS agency.

The AIDS-prevention program, including the condom distribution, will be available in the city's 21 high schools this fall, and is expected to expand later this year into four junior high schools and eventually to all junior highs, Ms. Ryan said.

Although school officials cannot bar students from receiving condoms, they would make every attempt to honor the wishes of parents who do not want their children to participate in the schoolwide and grade-level assemblies that explain the program, Ms. Lambe said.

Ms. Ryan said last week that her agency had received only one complaint from a parent, as well as many supportive comments, in response to a letter explaining the AIDS-prevention program and urging parents to talk to their children about AIDS.

Local officials approved the program, Ms. Lambe said, because of the relatively high rate of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS among the city's youths, and because a 1989 Centers for Disease Control study found that 75 percent of Washington 10th graders were having sex. Of those, 40 percent had had four or more sex partners, the study found.

A 1989 survey of 50 states and the District of Columbia by the American School Health Association found that health departments in only two states have sole authority for hiring school health personnel.

Vol. 12, Issue 02

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