In an effort to prevent rising rates of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and HIV, teen leaders of the non-profit organization Hyde Square Task Force have embarked on a mission to get city officials to expand sexuality education programs and access to condoms to all Boston-area schools. Their first step, with the help of Council Member-at-Large Ayanna Pressley, was to request a City Council hearing to discuss their proposal. The hearing will most likely be held in January 2011, according to a report by The Boston Globe.
Boston’s contraception access policy states that the distribution of condoms is strictly limited to eight out of the 30 high schools across the area. The eight selected schools were chosen because they contain city-run health centers. Each requires parental consent from students before they can obtain contraception. This mandate, which was created in 1994 and has yet to be updated, is on the students’ target list.
Students point out that the content of the existing sexuality education programs is also in need of major revision, based on both the lack of consistency in the information provided, and the fact that the content is based on abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula. Schools report the programs have been inconsistent in both instruction and implementation, as some are taught over a period of several weeks, while others see a much shorter delivery of only a few days.
In addition to providing a more consistent and comprehensive sexuality education program for all students, the proposed sexual health plan would designate one male and one female staff member to give out condoms in each high school. The appointed staff members would be in addition to employees of each school-based health center, who also would distribute condoms as a means of allowing more access to contraception. In support of the proposal, Yadelyn Acevedo, a Brook Farm and Business & Service Career Academy senior, stated that, “Youth will do what they want. It’s better to give them options and ways to be safe.”
Driving the teens’ urgency for a scale-up of comprehensive programs and resources are the high rates of STDs and unintended pregnancy in the area. In 2007, 1,383 young people ages 15−19 were diagnosed with Chlamydia in the Boston area—a 70 percent jump from 1999. Samantha Brea, a seventeen year-old senior at Muriel S. Snowden International High School expressed her concern over the priority of schools in her neighborhood to keeping students healthy. “It’s sad,” said Brea. “The schools would rather focus on things like books and tests than things that are affecting us now and could affect our tomorrow.”
Barbara Huscher, Boston Public Schools health education program director, agreed with the teens on the importance of their health. “We are going to have to listen to the community,” Huscher stated. “Boston Public Schools is in the business of teaching, and that’s what we focus on first. But we also want to keep students healthy.” Officials are already taking steps towards improving health programs, reviewing all of the current programs and brainstorming new program ideas for the Boston school district through its newly created Health and Wellness Department.
The teens’ proposal has drawn criticism from those opposed to teaching comprehensive sexuality education in schools. A locally-based group called Pure in Heart America chastised the students for choosing not to focus on implementing abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula. Pure in Heart America member Chris Pham stated that he believes that the teens’ plan of allowing greater access to condoms could make things worse. “The fact is, condoms are not the answer,” Pham said. “What they need to do is get better educated. They need to know the alternative is to wait until you are married.”
In response to opposition from Pure in Heart America and others who have voiced similar concerns, the teens have stated that they will propose teaching an abstinence-only course to be offered in concurrence with comprehensive sexuality education curricula. The teens have also produced an 18 minute film to illustrate their proposal. The film, which will premiere on December 9th at the Connolly Branch Library in Jamaica Plain, couples youth sexual health statistics with interviews of students, educators, and city officials all in favor of expanding comprehensive sexuality education and access to condoms to all schools in the Boston area.
“We know that there is strong evidence thatmore comprehensive approaches help young people both to withstand the pressures to have sex too soon and to have healthy, responsible, and mutually protective relationships when they do become sexually active. SIECUS commends these teens for speaking up to ask for the programs they know they need in their schools and that they know will help them protect themselves and live healthy lives,” says Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “The teen leaders at the Hyde Square Task Force are an inspiring example of how youth can be empowered to make positive decisions that will directly affect their future.”
 Medical News Today, “Boston Teens Propose More Access To Condoms, Sex Education,” Press Release published 2 December 2010, accessed 6 December 2010, <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/209989.php>.
 James Vaznis, “Hub Teens, Councilor Urge Sex Ed Overhaul,” The Boston Globe, 30 November 2010, accessed 6 December 2010, <http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2010/11/30/hub_teens_councilor_urge_sex_ed_overhaul/>.
 Medical News Today, “Boston Teens Propose More Access To Condoms, Sex Education.”
 James Vaznis, “Teens Seek Schools’ Aid on Sexual Safety,” The Boston Globe, 28 November 2010, accessed 6 December 2010, <http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/family/articles/2010/11/28/teens_seek_schools_aid_on_sexual_safety/?page=1>.
 Ally Donnelly, “Push to Overhaul Sex Ed in Boston Schools,” NECN: A Comcast Network, 30 November 2010, accessed 6 December 2010, <http://www.necn.com/11/30/10/Push-to-overhaul-sex-ed-in-Boston-school/landing_health.html?blockID=363635&feedID=4210>.
 James Vaznis, “Teens Seek Schools’ Aid on Sexual Safety.”
 Jim Armstrong, “Teens Push to Get Condoms in Boston Schools,” CBS Boston, 30 November 2010, accessed 6 December 2010, <http://boston.cbslocal.com/2010/11/30/teens-push-to-get-condoms-in-boston-schools/>.
 James Vaznis, “Teens Seek Schools’ Aid on Sexual Safety.”