Milwaukee schools to provide condoms

MILWAUKEE — Without discussion, the Milwaukee school board voted 7-0 Thursday night to make condoms available at many of the city's high schools, paving the way to make Milwaukee public schools one of the relatively few districts in the nation to provide contraception to students.

The communicable disease prevention program, as the district calls it, could be in place as soon as the 2010-11 school year.

The proposal sparked some opposition after being made public Dec. 2, but the board approved the condom distribution without much dissent. Comments from the public are not allowed at board meetings, and a board committee had voted 5-0 on Dec. 9 to recommend adopting the program.

The condoms will be available free of charge, but only to students in high schools that have school nurses and only after students request them at the nurse's office, according to a fact sheet circulated by the school district. Up to two condoms will be distributed at a time.

Thursday's vote does not authorize funding for the program, but the district has said it will not use taxpayer money to buy condoms and instead will seek other sources of funding.

In proposing the program, the school district said a 2009 study found that nearly 63 percent of high school students in the district were sexually active, and that nearly one-third of those students had not used a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse.

Also cited were figures that rate Milwaukee high among U.S. cities in births to teen mothers and "particularly high" in the incidence of certain sexually transmitted diseases.

The district noted that its sex education policy takes an abstinence-based approach to reducing the risk of communicable diseases. And it says research shows that students are more likely to use condoms if they are available in schools, but no more likely to be sexually active if condoms are available.

When the proposal was first publicized, Sally Ladky, executive director of the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Abstinence Coalition, said that a comprehensive medical exam, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and a full report of a student's medical and family history should be required before any school offered contraception to a student.

Citing the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the school district said 4.5 percent of high schools in the country make condoms available to students.

Last month, Democrats in the state Legislature tried to pass a bill that would require schools that teach sex education to instruct students about birth control, but Republicans blocked final passage of the measure.