The Philadelphia Health Department will install clear plastic dispensers brimming with free condoms at 22 of Philadelphia’s public high schools over winter break.
The schools chosen for the pilot program have the highest rates of students infected with sexually transmitted diseases in the city, Philly.com reports. All students — even those as young as 14 — will be eligible to score free condoms unless their parents sign a form prohibiting them from participating.
The primary issue city officials hope to address with the pilot program is not teen pregnancy, but the growing prevalence of sexually transmitted disease among adolescents.
Teens currently account for a quarter of new HIV infections and STDs in the City of Brotherly Love.
“I support the policy strongly,” Mayor Michael A. Nutter told Philly.com. “This is a serious public health matter.”
“Many of our teenagers, regardless of what adults think, are engaged in sexual activities,” Nutter added. “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.”
“If a teenager wants to use a condom, they should have access to a condom,” summarized Donald F. Schwarz, the deputy mayor for health and opportunity, according to Philly.com.
Schwarz also noted that he is aware of the possibility that the schools could “have hundreds of condoms taken and used inappropriately, for water balloons or something like that.”
The machines will be “supervised,” he promised Philly.com.
Free condom distribution is not a new phenomenon in Philadelphia high schools. A dozen already have “health resource centers” where the condoms are available gratis. The health department also provides contraceptive during voluntary STD screenings at city high schools.
The new condom dispensaries will be positioned “just inside the doorway near the entrance” to nurses’ offices, according to an email that Assistant Superintendent Dennis W. Creedon sent to nurses.
“Opt-out letters are to be maintained by the school office,” Creedon wrote, according to Philly.com “Students are to honor the wishes of their parents. If a student disrespects their guardian’s directive, that is an issue of the home.”
According to Deputy Mayor Schwarz, the city has no plan to advertise the condom dispensers.
“We’re going to allow word of mouth and the Internet and social media to start this off,” he told Philly.com.