The San Francisco Unified School District school board late Tuesday night unanimously approved a controversial decision to make condoms available to middle school students – one of three school districts in California to have such a program.
School officials say the policy change comes after survey results show that five percent of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students report being sexually active and about half of that group say they are not using protection. The only other school districts in California that have such "condom availability programs" for middle schoolers are in Oakland and Los Angeles.
The plan is part of district's effort to further prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy among minors. It would work like this: Just as middle school students are allowed under California Family and Health and Safety codes to buy condoms at a store without question, they will now be able to get them for free at the nurse's office on campus.
There will be no baskets of condoms handed out in the hallways, explained Kevin Gogin, the district's director of safety and wellness. Rather, he said, the students will now have to ask for them from a school professional.
By law, parents would not be notified of the request, Gogin said, unless the school nurse felt that there was "clear coercion, a marked age difference or the student's safety was in question." Parents, however, would still be notified annually about the program.
And despite some parents showing up at the board meeting to complain that teachers should be talking about algebra in school and not prophylactics, Gogin said, the move might actually prevent or slow down sexual behavior among 12- and 13-year-olds.
Oftentimes, the nurse will be able to "interrupt the behavior," Gogin said. "And to actually get the students' brains working. Sometimes, the student might wait."
There will be training for middle school staff before the program begins.
Some middle school parents and board members love the idea.
"Go for it," parent Paula-Anne Sherron said this month ahead of the vote. "They need to be speaking with an adult."
Some board members said educating kids about sex can be life changing.
"I was sexually active as a teen, had kids at 16 and 17," board trustee Shamann Walton said in early February. "I love my children to death, but programs like this help kids make healthy, responsible choices."
But other parents, including Maelene Cruz, did not think the program would be appropriate for young students.
The San Francisco school board first adopted a policy to distribute condoms at high schools in 1991, and in 1996 the board amended the district's condom distribution program to allow parents to opt out or exclude their child from the program.
According to Advocates For Youth, studies of high schools in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago found positive effects of condom availability programs. The same nonprofit found that the availability of condoms does not promote sexual activity.
NBC Bay Area's Jean Elle contributed to this report.