Starting next week, students in the Rochester City School District will be able to get condoms for free from school nurses.
The Condom Availability Program is controversial, but something the district says will prevent disease and teen pregnancy.
Students in grades 9 through 12 will be eligible. In order to get the condoms, they must also receive counseling about abstinence, safe sex, and STDs, and have completed a course on AIDS education.
The Board of Education adopted the policy early in 2012 after much debate. Leaders say the goal is to prevent disease.
According to the Monroe County Health Department, in 2010, 45 percent of new HIV cases were among the young.
The RCSD said it also wants to reduce teen pregnancies. Of the 2,500 kindergartners currently in the district, 681 were born to teen moms - the equivalent of 31 kindergarten classes.
"What we expect to happen as a result of this policy is a reduction in incidents of HIV, reduction in teen pregnancies, and an increase in the number of teenagers who report that they use condoms while having sex," said Jerome Underwood, RCSD Youth Development Director.
We are one of the districts that are now adopting the program. We have been studying several districts, particularly in New York City, who, if I'm not mistaken, 10 years ago they started doing this. What we've seen from the data is there is no increase in kids' sexual activity as a result. The fact that we are starting next week, we're going to be monitoring the data."
Sarah Lenhard with Founder Dream Again Ministries works with men and women who were in the sex industry. She's a critic of the district's program and says it ignores bigger issues, like many teens are not having sex with their peers but with those much older than them.
"Handing a child a condom to curve their sexual behavior is like handing someone a band-aid who's just had their foot shot off. It's just a temporary and not sufficient way to solve the problem," Lenhard said. "We want parents and anybody watching this interview to know there are alternative resources outside the RCSD."
There is an opt-out clause. Parents can sign a letter that will prevent their son or daughter from being able to get condoms from the school nurse. Letters did go home to parents about the policy, and information was posted on the district website. According to the district, 1.5 to 2 percent of parents so far have signed that opt-out letter.
There is no cost to the district. The program is a State Dept of Health initiative.