Lynn School Committee votes to allow birth control, condoms to be offered in high schools

Students, parents and community members packed the room before the School Committee voted to allow contraceptives in the district's high schools. (Gayla Cawley)

LYNN — Lynn Vocational Technical Institute student Destiny Davis was 15 years old when she decided to have sex for the first time. It was an experience that would change her life when she became pregnant. 

Now the mother of a 2-year-old son, Davis said she made the decision to become intimate with someone she trusted. But she went into the experience blind and with no protection. 

Davis said she didn’t know anything about sex or birth control at the time. Her parents had forbidden the subject at home and she didn’t know how to access contraceptives. 

She took her first pregnancy test at Lynn Community Health Center. Her suspicions were correct. The result was positive. 

Barely into her teen years and with no job, Davis said there was no way she could take care of a baby. She would walk the halls in school, where she would be met with stares of disbelief from her teachers and judgment from fellow students. At home, she said her parents wouldn’t even look at her. 

Having her baby was bittersweet, Davis said, but it also brought postpartum depression and sleepless nights. Her life consisted of school and homework, along with being a mother and girlfriend. 

“Even though I love being a mother to my beautiful son, I have no doubt that if I had access to birth control, my outcome would have been different and my life would be easier,” Davis said.

Davis shared her story at a School Committee meeting on Thursday night, where the panel was scheduled to vote on a proposal from Lynn Community Health Center to begin providing condoms, birth control and emergency contraception in Lynn Public Schools to students who ask. 

Following nearly two hours of discussion and feedback from the community — a packed room was split between those in favor and those in opposition — the committee ultimately opted to unanimously approve the proposal. Committee member Brian Castellanos cited Davis’ testimony as one that had a profound impact on him before the vote. 

The vote to offer contraceptives in the district’s high schools comes six months after Lynn Community Health Center, which has a clinical presence in the schools, brought the proposal before the committee as a way to try to curb teen pregnancies and prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Currently, in the schools, Lynn Community Health clinicians are able to provide basic education on contraception and STIs, test for STIs and pregnancy, refer students to clinics for a Depo-Provera shot and prescribe birth control. 

But the problem is that students don’t always follow through with filling the prescriptions and are left with no protection, according to Lynn Community health providers. 

“When they come and ask us for further care in their reproductive health care, we’re only allowed to educate them and send them back to the health center for further care,” said Julie Chan, a pediatric nurse practitioner with the Lynn Community Health Center who works at Lynn Tech as a school-based health center nurse practitioner. 

“We are creating a roadblock for them. It is unfortunate that this roadblock has led to cases of chlamydia and unwanted pregnancy.” 

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. This year, there have been 21 cases of chlamydia in the district’s schools, according to Chan.

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.

Despite the statistics, the proposal has been a controversial one among parents who feel it leaves them out of being involved in their children’s medical decisions. 

Last week, the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) held a strategy meeting for parents and community members in opposition at the Lynn Spanish Church in preparation for the School Committee meeting.

Pedro Fabre, a father of two daughters, said providing a condom is like giving a 17-year-old boy a lamborghini. It doesn’t matter if you give them the car, their motor skills are not ready and they’re going to crash. 

“They’re not ready,” said Fabre. “What happens is, we, as parents have to pick up the pieces … Allow the parents to make the choice and be involved in the decisions.” 

Others who spoke in opposition said the hormones in birth control could lead to breast cancer if taken over a long period of time. Some were concerned about prescribing birth control to students who have allergies or that could lead to possible drug interactions without their parents’ knowledge. 

Health center representatives say state law prevents them from notifying parents about a student 13 and over asking for contraceptives without their consent. 

But students do need parental consent to get most services from the district’s eight school-based health centers. To mitigate some of the parent concerns about possible drug interactions and allergic reactions, which were echoed by several committee members, the panel voted to update the consent form with what contraceptives would be offered. 

Despite lots of opposition from parents, committee members all spoke in favor of the proposal, with Castellanos and Michael Satterwhite sharing that they’ve had siblings who were teen parents. Vice-chair Donna Coppola said she’s worked with teen mothers through her job at JOI Child Care Center.  

Committee member John Ford said he’s a father of four daughters. He said he agreed with one resident who spoke about how sex education should be discussed in the home, but in reality, kids aren’t learning about sex from their parents in many cases. 

“If I can keep one pregnancy from happening, that’s how I’m going to vote,” he said. 

Lynn Community Health Center clinicians can now offer condoms, dispense oral contraceptives, inject Depo-Provera and provide Plan B emergency contraception to students.

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