The procedure would authorize nurses, social workers and counselors, not teachers, to supply condoms if requested.
Belfast Area High School is seen on Nov. 4, 2016. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

Condoms could soon be available by request to middle- and high-school students in Regional School Unit 71, if a proposed procedure under consideration is passed by the board of directors.

The move is intended to help prevent sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancies and teach students how to make healthy choices. Only certain staff members, including school nurses, social workers, counselors and administrators, would be allowed to hand out condoms and have conversations with students about being sexually active.

It’s unclear how many other Maine school districts have a similar procedure or policy in place; however, Lake Region Schools adopted a similar policy in 2014.

The procedure was requested and in part written by school nurses, according to Director Elizabeth Burnett. Burnett said the district’s legal counsel, Drummond Woodsum, advised the policy committee to write this guidance as a procedure rather than a policy. While policy requires board approval, a procedure does not. However, Burnett considers this guidance a “curious hybrid” of the two.

“The nurses are the drivers of this particular policy because of the issues that they’re seeing in the schools,” Burnett said.

Superintendent Mary Alice McLean said the district wants to make room for more in-depth conversations about safe sex, alongside its health curriculum.

“This was a way in addition to our health curriculum to provide extra education on sexual activity,” McLean said.

The procedure would recommend parents be sex educators for their children to teach them how to make healthy decisions. However, it acknowledges not all children feel comfortable having these conversations with their families. As a result, the procedure would authorize certain staff members to have these conversations with students — if they are sought out.

It also would authorize school nurses, counselors and administrators to provide students with condoms, if they ask for them. The availability of condoms would not be advertised.

The draft procedure does not require school staff to inform parents about these conversations.

Most directors who spoke at Tuesday night’s board meeting supported the procedure, but believed it needed tweaking.

Director Cory Seekins wanted parents to be informed if their children have these conversations with staff members and potentially are experiencing stress.

“I’m not opposed to moving outside the realm of reading, writing and arithmetic when we involve parents,” Seekins said.

Others, however, have concerns. Director Jean Dube, for instance, wanted more specific language about which staff members can have these conversations and provide these services. She didn’t believe that teachers should have those conversations, because they aren’t trained in this work. Director Steve Hopkins opposed the measure entirely.

The district will now determine whether the board needs to vote for the district to carry out these guidelines. It will come back to the board after the draft is tweaked based on suggestions from the directors.