District Opposes Issuing Condoms at High Schools : Oxnard: Officials say they will review the AIDS curriculum to confirm that it meets state guidelines. They say handing out prophylactics would anger some parents.
School administrators and some parents oppose issuing condoms to students in the Oxnard Union High School District, despite the plea of an elementary school trustee that they do so to slow the spread of AIDS.
Officials who run the 11,100-student high school district say they will only review the district’s AIDS curriculum to confirm that it meets state educational requirements.
The availability of condoms on the district’s six high school campuses would be certain to cause an outcry from some parents and could detract from the district’s mission to educate students, they said.
A condom distribution program could also run into logistic and legal obstacles, Supt. Ian Kirkpatrick said. The concern over liability now prevents high school nurses from dispensing aspirin or vitamins, he said.
“The bottom line is that the district has no plans to be a condom distributor, although we do provide information about agencies that provide condoms,” Kirkpatrick said.
But the superintendent said he would not close the door on condom distribution in the future. He said he plans to monitor the success of pilot programs in Los Angeles high schools.
Yet Kirkpatrick emphasized that any proposal to make condoms available to the district’s students would have to come from the district’s board of trustees.
Steve Stocks, the board president and former principal of Oxnard High School, said that any initiative to distribute condoms will have to come from the seven elementary districts that feed students to the sprawling high school district that covers Camarillo, Oxnard, Port Hueneme and El Rio.
“If all of those districts were of one mind, certainly we would look at it,” Stocks said.
Stocks said the district’s curriculum is first-rate, and said he would resist adding more non-academic courses.
“We’re asked to be the mother, father and social teacher for students, from teaching driving to celebrating Susan B. Anthony Day--whatever the state has mandated,” Stocks said.
“We don’t have time enough for the three Rs as it is,” he said.
Another trustee, Nancy Koch, said she flatly opposes the distribution of condoms on campus. “I don’t think that is the mission of the high schools, to pass out condoms,” said Koch, who made her stand clear last fall when she ran for the board.
The negative response came as no surprise to Jack Fowler, the outspoken Oxnard School District trustee who proposed last month that the elementary district consider its own condom distribution program if the high school district did not act first.
Fowler, who has served on the elementary school board for 18 years, criticized the high school district for doing only the bare minimum. He said the high school district only teaches AIDS awareness in two classes that are required by the state educational code.
Fowler said he plans to step up his criticism of the high school district during his two remaining years on the board. He said he has no plans to run for another four-year term. He accused the high school district of going slow on AIDS education and prevention because of the fear that the community would be offended.
“It’s a very touchy subject, and the school district cannot ignore the mores of the community it is in,” Fowler said. But the district “must also be in a position of leadership,” he said.
Fowler said he would prefer that sensitive sexual issues--including the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS among sexually active teen-agers--would best be taught at home. But he said many parents are horrified at the idea of discussing such a subject.
Several parents who are active in parent-teacher associations said a condom program would be unpopular.
“Too many people would be offended,” said Kathy Van Slyke, a parent of a student at Rio Mesa High School.
While supportive of expanding AIDS information taught to the students, Van Slyke said distributing condoms would be asking too much of the schools. “There are stores, and I feel most of the kids know where to get them,” Van Slyke said.
Betty Harold, the parent of a student at Oxnard High School, said condom distribution is unnecessary. “If the schools did distribute condoms, it would be controversial,” Harold said.
She said a large number of parents who hold conservative religious views would probably picket the schools and tie up the district in litigation.
The issue of whether condoms should be available on campus was debated by student journalists at Camarillo High School in the current issue of The Stinger, the school’s monthly newspaper.
Gretchen Burger, a 17-year-old senior, said that making condoms available might possibly encourage students to become sexually active before they are mature enough to handle it.
Easy access to condoms could reduce the stigma associated with them, Gretchen said.
Kathy Hamor, a 16-year-old junior, said sexually active students should be able to obtain condoms on campus to avoid the expense and embarrassment of buying them in drugstores.
Kathy said three of her friends had obtained abortions during the past year, and could have avoided pregnancy if condoms were more easily available.
“School is supposed to prepare us for the world, but they are not preparing us for the world of sex,” Kathy said.
County statistics bear her out.
In 1990, there were 752 births to girls 18 or younger, said Nikki Steele, coordinator of Ventura County’s Pregnant Adolescent Parenting Program. With the rate running about 16% higher this year, there could be as many as 875 births to teen-age mothers this year.
“If the birth rate is going up, we need to look at what’s going on,” Steele said. “It’s time to take a hard look at what works and what doesn’t.”
Norm Brekke, superintendent of the Oxnard School District, said reaction to Fowler’s proposal was sometimes off the mark, with some parents asking when the district plans to install condom machines.
“ ‘Condoms’ is an emotional trigger word,” Brekke said.
But with at least five students in the elementary district already known to carry the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, Brekke said the district is already preparing to cope with the grief a death from AIDS would cause.
“If I’m going to be criticized,” Brekke said, “I’d rather be criticized for doing something rather than doing nothing.”