After a recent program revealed that five percent of the city's high schoolers tested positive for STDs, including HIV, Philadelphia is installing free condom dispensers in nearly a third of its high schools. The 22 schools chosen were the ones with the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
"We believe distributing condoms is part of our obligation to keep students healthy and to remain healthy," said school district spokesman Fernando Gallard. "The health department has described this as a continued epidemic of STDs among teenagers in Philadelphia."
Of the 130,000 student who have received testing in the last five years, some 6,500 or 5 percent of them have tested positive for diseases including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The condoms will be available to all students unless their parents signed an "opt out" form, although, in a move that will surely piss off your Fox News types, the "opt out" apparently won't be enforced by the school or its nurses.
"Opt-out letters are to be maintained by the school office," Assistant Superintendent Dennis W. Creedon wrote. "Students are to honor the wishes of their parents. If a student disrespects their guardian's directive, that is an issue of the home."
For the most part, the decision has received support from the city's leaders, including Mayor Michael Nutter.
"The reality is: Many of our teenagers, regardless of what adults think, are engaged in sexual activities," the mayor said. "Discussion about whether or not they should be sexually active is an appropriate discussion, but if they are, then we need to make sure they're engaged in safe sexual practices."
And, in case you were wondering, city officials are well aware that kids will use the condoms for activities other than sex. As Dr. Donald F. Schwarz, Philadelphia's health commissioner and deputy mayor for health and opportunity, put it:
"We don't want kids to either not use them - have the dispensers and no one touches them - or to have hundreds of condoms taken and used inappropriately, for water balloons or something like that," Schwarz said.
Schwartz also told the New York Daily News that "less than 60 percent" of high school students reported using condoms during their last sexual encounter, so yeah, the risk of the occasional water balloon fight/letter from an outraged parent seems worth it.
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