- Posted May 16, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Student voices in journalism
Free Condoms Available at 24 Chicago High Schools this Fall
This fall, high school students attending 24 Chicago public high schools (CPS) will be able to get free condoms. This is a pilot program that has been created to help reduce teen pregnancies and reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Currently in Chicago, the teen birth rate is 57 out of every 1,000 girls between 15 and 19 years of age. While condoms are widely available throughout the city and online, they are expensive (online stores that sell condoms are cheaper than actual stores: CVS and BritCondoms), and many teens who are sexually active can’t afford to buy them.
This is one and a half times the national average, according to the “Action Plan for Healthy Adolescents”. This is also the only age group where the HIV infection rate continues to rise. The report also states that African-American and Hispanic teen girls are as much as three times more apt to get pregnant than white teenage girls. Sadly, the majority of babies born to young mothers are born in the poorest areas of the city.
The free condom program began last year, with condoms being distributed to 476 different sites, including barber shops and “service sites”. The second phase of the program is to provide free condoms to high school students from 24 Chicago public high schools. According to Chief Health Officer for CPS Stephanie Whyte, this is part of a “teen pregnancy prevention initiative”, which has received a $20 million federal grant. The purpose of this grant is to teach teens about building life skills and learning healthy behaviors. One component is teen outreach, with 18 schools in areas where teen pregnancy rates are the highest.
When speaking to the City Council’s Health and Education Committees, Whyte said, “What stands out is, 52 percent of our high school students have had sexual intercourse. Just under 18 percent of them have had four or more partners in their lifetime and only about 64 percent have used a condom in the last month.”
The principals from the various schools can decide whether or not they want to provide condoms to students. It is recommended that they do, as part of sexual health education. Parents and guardians must be notified if their teenagers are being given education about sexual health. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that this is a decision based on reality. He said that pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are all too common in young people, and instead of hiding the problem, this is a way to deal with it effectively.
“It’s an acknowledgement of what’s happening, whether you did that or not. It’s…an attempt to deal, from a health care perspective, [with] both pregnancy as well as socially-transmitted diseases. I respect it as a pilot. But, I want everybody to understand that doesn’t mean you’re absolved — either as a parent or an adult — to talk to an adolescent about responsible behavior, respecting who you’re with and doing what’s right, not what’s convenient,” said Emanuel.
This program is not meant to condone sexual activity among young people. The reality is that teenagers are going to have sex, and we need to take steps to prevent unplanned teen pregnancies and diseases. It is currently a pilot program, and if it works, it could be expanded to all city high schools in the future. There is currently a three-year sexual health education policy that was approved in February, 2012, which includes “required minutes” that are designed for students of all ages, from Kindergarten to seniors in high school. The Health Department and CPS are also working together on educating students about sexually transmitted diseases, and screenings which is currently offered to 25,000 students on 40 schools.