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New York City Schools to Hand Out Condoms

<i> From Associated Press</i>

After months of debate and a last-minute compromise effort, the Board of Education voted Wednesday night to hand out condoms on request in the nation’s largest school system, as part of a stepped up effort to fight AIDS.

Condoms initially will be available at 30 to 35 schools, then phased in at the rest of the city’s 120 schools, which enroll a total of 260,000 students.

Parents’ permission will not be required, an issue that was the major sticking point for the board, which approved the plan on a vote of 4 to 3. Several board members tried to negotiate an “opt-out” clause, allowing parents to write notes to exclude their children.

Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez insisted that no “opt-in” be required. He said that to make teens get their parents’ permission would scare them away from the condom giveaways.

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The plan is the most liberal such program in the nation because it does not involve sending students to health clinics to get the condoms, said Robin Lewis, spokeswoman for the Center for Population Options in Washington. Trained adult volunteers will provide the condoms, with counseling available but optional.

Students will not have to identify themselves to receive a condom.

Mathilde Krim, adjunct professor of public health at Columbia University and founding co-chair of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, estimates that two of every 100 teen-agers in the city--more than 5,160 public school students--are infected with the virus for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Fernandez estimated 80% of the city’s young people have sex by age 19. Dr. Alwyn T. Cohall, who runs three of the city’s 17 school-based clinics, said one in four sexually active high school students gets a sexually transmitted disease before graduation.

Opponents contended that the proposal will not necessarily reduce teen pregnancies or the risk of infection.

Eleanor Kelly, a mother of three teen-agers and past president of a conservative group, Parent Roundtable, said it also would promote “a false sense of security, thereby encouraging more of our young people to engage in high-risk behavior.”


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