Clinic at New London High School to offer students contraceptives

New London - Beginning March 1, students at New London High School will be able to get condoms and birth control prescriptions at the on-site health clinic run by the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut.

The Board of Education was notified formally of the plan in a memo accompanying the agenda for its meeting tonight.

Bill Morse, chairman of the board, said Wednesday that the board's approval is not needed for an expansion of school-based health clinic services, but members will have a chance to discuss the plan and ask school and Child & Family Agency officials about it.

Superintendent Nicholas Fischer said making contraceptives more available will help address long-standing problems among New London youth: relatively high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

"Our plan is to go ahead with this unless we face substantial opposition from the board," Fischer said.

Morse said he supports the plan, citing a 2010 Ledge Light Health District report showing that the rate of chlamydia infections among New London youth was roughly twice the state and national average, and gonorrhea rates also were high. Higher-than-average rates were found for youth in Groton.

"This is an important step forward," Morse said. "If we can help students take care of their health issues, without them having to go to Planned Parenthood or somewhere else, it'll be a lot easier for them to take care of their academic issues."

No school funds will be spent on the program, Morse said. It will be added to clinic services under the school system's existing contract with Child & Family.

The service will be available to only the 73 percent of New London High students whose parents have signed them up to receive services at the school-based health clinic. Those parents will receive a letter about the contraceptive program. In it, parents will be told that if they do not want their child to receive the service, they should indicate that on the letter with their signature and send it back to the Child & Family Agency.

Joanne Eaccarinno, associate director of school-based programs for Child & Family, said contraceptives are not offered at the agency's school-based clinics in Groton and Norwich. But the agency's contract with the state Department of Public Health allows it to offer contraceptives "by the choice of the community."

New London school officials made the request that the clinic expand its services to include contraceptives, Eaccarinno said. Currently, when a student comes to the clinic and asks for contraceptives, nurses are limited to providing education about safe sex and abstinence, but cannot provide the contraceptives or direct them to specific health care providers in the community.

"It happens a lot," she said, when asked whether students come to the clinic asking for contraceptives. "We have to say, 'Where do your friends go?' But it's hard to get to those places, and hard to get appointments."

Currently, the clinic does provide testing for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Once the contraceptive program starts, students will hear safe sex and abstinence messages as they receive the contraceptives or prescriptions, Eaccarinno said. In many cases, they will be given both condoms and a contraceptive prescription - for pills, DepoProvera injections or Ortho Evra, a contraceptive patch - to ensure they are fully protected against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, she said.

"But we're not going to be pulling kids in and saying, 'You should be on the pill,'" she said. "It'll be initiated by the kid."

Morse said other communities including Windham offer contraceptives in school-based health clinics. A member of the Windham school board is planning to attend the Jan. 26 meeting of the New London board to discuss how the program works there, Morse said.

To those who would oppose the program on the grounds that it would promote sexual activity among students, Morse, Fischer and Eaccarinno all said that notion is not borne out by research.

"The first thing that will be stressed is abstinence, and the role of both parties" in taking responsibility for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, Morse said.

"In the real world in which we live, this is the most practical approach," he said.

j.benson@theday.com

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