Please, Portland, let them be kids

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--Should a public school encourage students to engage in risky behavior that is also illegal? Administrators at King Middle School, located in Portland, Maine, say yes.

The Portland School Committee Oct. 17 voted 7-2 in favor of allowing King Middle School to make birth control pill and patch prescriptions available to its students, even if the parents don't approve it. The kids range in age from 11 to 13. Condoms have been available at the school since 2000.

One would think such a drastic action would be a response to a middle school pregnancy epidemic. However, that is not the case. According to Douglas Gardner, director of Portland's Health and Human Services Department, Portland's three middle schools have had seven pregnancies in the past five years.

We would all agree that even one middle school pregnancy is too many. However, is dispensing birth control to 11 to 13 year olds the answer? Especially when according to Michael McCarthy, King's principal, it is "a small population" that "needs protection."

King Middle School moved to offer pills and patches when it was realized the kids were not using the available condoms. "When they followed up," McCarthy said, "they found that in many cases, the kids weren't doing that [utilizing condoms]."

At least one parent thinks the idea to dispense birth control pills and patches to middle schools students is good. Carol Schiller told the Associated Press that she was "elated." To those that are shocked that 11 year-olds are a having sex, Schiller's response was, "get over it."

Simply put, those behind the decision to distribute birth control employ an inconsistent logic. Like Schiller above, they believe that a certain number of students are going to have sex. There is nothing anyone can to about it, so their answer is to provide a means for them do it "safely." Do you think they treat all student behavior this way?

Does King Middle School provide a safe environment in which their students can drink alcohol? Does it provide space for them to do drugs? Does King Middle School provide filtered cigarettes to its students and a place to puff away? Does it instruct its students on how to lie and cheat effectively? We all know that a certain number of kids are going to engage in the aforementioned behaviors, right? Since they are going to do it, shouldn't King Middle School help them to do so safely and effectively?

There is also a legal issue in regard to the King Middle School decision to make any contraceptive available its students. The "age of consent" (the age at which a person may legally consent to marriage and/or sex) in Maine is 16. In reality, the school is encouraging its students to break the law.

I know there are those who argue that making birth control available to kids does not encourage them to have sex. "It's sort of like the availability of seat belts causes more traffic accidents," said Dr. Laurie S. Zabin, a professor at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Zabin's analogy is incredibly weak. If you put 11, 12 or 13 year olds behind the wheel of an automobile there will be more accidents. While the seat belts might save some of their lives, there will nevertheless be serious consequences.

King Middle School's move to offer contraceptives totally ignores the issue of sexually transmitted disease, since pills and patches offer no protection. Of course, condoms are not much better. The Centers for Disease Control reports that condom use reduces the risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, by only 85 percent –- and then only when used "correctly and consistently." The report went on to say that there is no scientific proof to the claim that condoms provide protection against other sexually transmitted diseases.

Obviously, no birth control works 100 percent of the time. Pills and patches must be used "correctly and consistently" in order to have any effectiveness. Pills must be taken every day. Miss one day and the risk of pregnancy increases.

The patch is a bit more complicated. From a website promoting patch usage, the following was gleaned: "Use one patch per week for three weeks in a row. On the fourth week, no patch should be worn and your menstrual period should start. A new patch is applied 7 days after removal to start another month of birth control. The patch should not be worn continuously -- it is important to have the week off during which your period occurs." If not used properly, the patch's effectiveness plummets.

Do you think an 11-, 12- or 13- year-old girl is responsible enough to follow, on her own, the aforementioned regimes? I don't.

There is also the issue of secrecy. The King Middle School will offer the contraceptives without parental knowledge, usurping a parent's authority.

While King Middle School believes giving birth control to 11 to 13 year olds is a way to prevent teenage pregnancies, it only serves to exacerbate the problem and provide the kids with a false since of security. It truly is a bad idea.


Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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