LYNN — School Committee members indicated on Monday they planned to vote in favor of a proposal to provide condoms, birth control and emergency contraception in the district’s high schools, but put off a decision until parents had a chance to weigh in.
Health officials say the proposal is meant to curb teen pregnancies and provide students with protection against sexually transmitted infections.
“I agree it’s necessary,” said School Committee vice-chair Donna Coppola, who spoke in favor of a parent forum, along with committee member Brian Castellanos.
“(This way), at least we’re up front and not voting on something without having given parents and students an opportunity to be able to speak or ask questions, or hear what we’re hearing today to put them in a more comfortable position.”
But committee member John Ford said holding a parent forum would be disingenuous since the panel was planning to vote in favor anyway.
“I think we have an obligation to do everything we can to protect the safety of the kids,” he said. “I’m against having a parent night on this. I think it could get heated and emotional. By doing our job, we can vote it in and it ensures the safety of the kids.”
A vote is expected on Nov. 14. Parents will have 30 minutes to comment on the proposal during an extended open mic session before the School Committee meeting.
In light of statistics that show the city’s teen birth rate is more than triple the state rate, school officials first started considering the birth control proposal in June following a presentation from the Lynn Community Health Center, a partner of the district, which has a clinical presence in the schools.
At the time, the committee requested more information about how similar programs were working in other school districts before voting.
Last year, there were 57 pregnant minors, or students under 18 years old, in the Lynn Public Schools, and seven of those cases were second pregnancies, according to Julie Chan, a pediatric nurse practitioner with Lynn Community Health Center who works at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute as a school-based health center practitioner.
According to the most recent report from the Department of Public Health, Lynn’s teen birth rate was 29.2 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 in 2016, far exceeding the state’s rate that year of 8.5.
Of the 30 largest municipalities in the state listed in the May 2018 report, only New Bedford and Lawrence had higher teen birth rates that year at 31.6 and 34.5 respectively.
But it’s not just teen pregnancies driving the proposal. Offering condoms would be aimed at providing students protection against STIs. In September alone, there were 21 cases of chlamydia in school-based health centers in Lynn, which includes middle schools, Chan said.
Lynn Community Health Center is proposing to service the schools by giving condoms, dispensing oral contraceptives, injecting Depo-Provera and providing Plan B emergency contraception to students who ask. The shot could potentially cut the district’s teen pregnancies by 20 to 25 percent, health officials said.
Right now, in the schools, Lynn Community Health clinicians are able to provide basic education on contraception and sexually transmitted infections, test for STIs and pregnancy, refer students to clinics for the shot and prescribe birth control, according to the health center’s CEO Kiame Mahaniah.
“It’s already happening (at the pharmacy) whether or not you approve this,” said Mahaniah. “By law, we’re not allowed to tell the parents. We’re already prescribing. What we’re asking for is the ability to give it to the (students) in the schools.”
Other high schools that provide some or all of those four options already include those in Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lawrence, Peabody, Salem, Somerville and Charlestown.
Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler said he was in favor of offering condoms and birth control, explaining that because students are provided with education along with the products, abstinence is actually higher in districts where those programs are in place.
“The students who are appearing are active or ready to be active,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee, chairman of the School Committee. “If they don’t have the comfort level to go (somewhere else) outside, they’re not going to have the protection. Under current law, they can get access to this somewhere else if they know where the access to this is.”