Public school condom ban upheld

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Less than half of Big Island teens used condoms the last time they had sex, one survey shows, but a policy that bans the distribution of prophylactics in Hawaii’s public schools isn’t going away just yet.

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Less than half of Big Island teens used condoms the last time they had sex, one survey shows, but a policy that bans the distribution of prophylactics in Hawaii’s public schools isn’t going away just yet.

The state Board of Education voted Tuesday to keep the condom prohibition intact, withdrawing a previous motion to overturn it.

Board members did so upon recommendation of the state Department of Education that argued condoms in schools remains “controversial … in the community” and the policy shouldn’t be changed without “sufficient community conversation leading up to the decision.”

Removing the ban would require new guidelines and regulations that could “place an additional workload” on state and school employees, the DOE recommendation said.

Health care providers told board members Tuesday the ban was a bad idea. A Planned Parenthood petition that collected dozens of signatures opposing the ban also was submitted to the board.

Fewer adolescents in Hawaii use condoms than anywhere in the country, physicians argued, quoting results from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The survey found 48.4 percent of high school students statewide and 47.3 percent in Hawaii County used condoms during their most recent intercourse. The national average hovers at about 60 percent, said Shandhini Raidoo, a Honolulu-based obstetrician and gynecologist.

Raidoo, who works in a teen clinic on Oahu, said in her testimony that Hawaii has the 15th-highest rate of chlamydia infections in the country. She said a condom availability program in Massachusetts decreased chlamydia and gonorrhea infections among male students by 47 percent.

“We think high school students are going to have sex regardless of whether they have access to condoms or not,” she told the Tribune-Herald. “They’re just practicing unsafe sex and putting themselves at risk for STDs and unintended pregnancy.”

Teen pregnancy rates in the state declined in recent years, though physicians said in testimony that Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth are at higher risk than other ethnic groups. Hawaii County teen pregnancy rates — at one point among the highest in the state — now hover close to national averages.

New York City public schools have featured a condom program for decades. Condoms are available at every high school inside designated “Health Resource Rooms,” according to online information about the program. Parents can choose to exempt their kids from the program.

Hawaii made substantial changes to its sex education policies last year, replacing what was previously an abstinence-based approach.

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The new, more comprehensive policy calls for education about abstinence, contraception and methods of infection prevention to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Parents can opt their kids out of the program, should they choose.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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