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Councilmember Leventhal and Board of Education member Ortman-Fouse seek information, expansion of MCPS contraceptive program

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Memo to Department of Health and Human Services requests expanded access to all high schools, feasibility assessment for middle schools

ROCKVILLE, Md., August 28, 2018—Councilmember George Leventhal and Board of Education member Jill Ortman-Fouse have addressed a memo to Dr. Jack Smith, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Uma Ahluwalia, Director of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and Dr. Travis Gayles, County Health Officer, requesting further information on DHHS' plans to distribute contraceptives at wellness centers at four MCPS schools. The memo responds to data recently released by DHHS indicating that the incidence rate of several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is on the rise among county youth between the ages of 15 and 29. The memo calls for the expansion of access to contraceptives at all county high schools, citing precedents in Baltimore City and Dorchester County, and requests feasibility studies for the implementation of similar programs in middle schools. It cites studies which demonstrate that contraceptive distribution programs lead to lower rates of sexual activity and better health outcomes.

The full text of the memo is reproduced below:

With a new school year fast approaching, we are writing to request more information regarding the recently announced plans for distribution of contraceptives at high school wellness centers, the feasibility of expanding access to additional schools, a copy of the sexually transmitted infections (STIs) student education plan, and timeline to increase access to testing and treatment for STIS.

As you are already aware, the latest health data indicate that several STIs are on the rise in Montgomery County among our youth. Cases of chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea rose sharply from 2016 to 2017 for individuals between the ages of 15 and 29, and Montgomery County’s increases are significantly higher than the Maryland state average.

We understand that the county’s Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) intends to offer condoms to students at the four school-based wellness centers as part of a comprehensive strategy to address this public health crisis. However, we would like to see access expanded beyond these four schools to all high schools in the county as has been done in Baltimore City and Dorchester County. In addition, we would appreciate the assistance of your respective agencies in assessing the feasibility of extending this resource to middle schools, either through targeted distribution or by making them generally available at all middle schools.

We recognize the sensitivities surrounding issues related to sexual health and making contraceptives available at schools. For this reason, we feel it is important for HHS and Montgomery County Public Schools to allay the concerns of parents, teachers and students who may have reservations about the introduction of condoms into schools. There is a perception among some that the provision of condoms in schools will lead to increased sexual activity among youth. The relationship between the availability of condoms and sexual behavior has been extensively studied over the last few decades, and the overwhelming majority of data suggest that the opposite is true. Studies have shown that when condoms are provided in conjunction with education on the prevention of STIs, it leads to a decrease in the initiation of sexual activity and, more broadly, leads to positive health outcomes, particularly among high-risk groups.1 We believe students and parents should be educated on the recent surge in STI cases, risk behaviors and why the distribution of condoms is both a prudent and necessary precaution to prevent the spread of these infections. Accordingly, we would like to better understand the interagency strategy to inform students and parents of the risk of STIs and the ramifications if we don’t take immediate, concrete measures to address this now.

As stewards of children, we have a moral obligation to create an environment that meets not only their educational, but their physical and medical needs as well. Parents entrust the county to nurture their children’s minds and bodies, and we would be doing them a disservice if we did not make every effort to provide these sexual health resources to every adolescent in the county. Untreated STIs can lead to serious long-term health consequences, especially for adolescents and young women. We acknowledge there are practical, as well as fiscal, challenges associated with greatly expanding access to condoms across the school system and are committed to working through them with you to ensure that we stop this alarming health trend in its tracks.

Thank you for your consideration of our views and for any additional details you can provide regarding the rollout of this new public health initiative.

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Release ID: 18-215
Media Contact: Sonya Healy 240-777-7926