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P-town to rethink condom policy

Governor urges no access for young children

By Jack Nicas
Globe Correspondent / June 25, 2010

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The Provincetown school system will revisit its controversial policy of making condoms available to all students, with no age restriction, after Governor Deval Patrick expressed concern yesterday that very young children would have access to them.

A day after the new policy caused a media firestorm, School Committee chairman Peter Grosso said that Provincetown would probably limit condoms to fifth-graders and older. His stance stemmed from a conversation he had with Superintendent Beth Singer, author of the rule set to take effect this fall.

“She said the School Committee is going to have to revisit the policy and definitely reword it so it’s self-explaining, and possibly wording it so that maybe there would be an exclusion of the real young grades,’’ Grosso said.

In a rare intervention in a local matter, Patrick called Singer yesterday morning to urge her to keep the free condoms out of the Cape Cod community’s elementary school, which serves preschoolers to sixth-graders.

In a statement, he called the policy “not age appropriate’’ and objected to a provision requiring school officials to provide condoms despite parental objections.

“The governor is deeply concerned,’’ state Education Secretary Paul Reville told the Globe. “He had a good conversation [with Singer] and was encouraged that the community was willing to consider making this age appropriate and keeping parents involved in the process.’’

The wording of the policy technically makes condoms available to any Provincetown pupil, from preschoolers to high school seniors. But Singer and two committee members have assured critics that the policy would be enforced case by case and that, in practical application, condoms would not be given to young elementary school students.

Patrick’s two main challengers in the governor’s race blasted the policy yesterday.

“As a parent, I find the Provincetown school position indefensible,’’ Republican Charles D. Baker said. “I especially resent and oppose this notion that parents aren’t allowed to opt their kids out.’’

“It’s wrong,’’ independent candidate Timothy P. Cahill said. “You can be teaching kids about the facts of life, sexual education, but passing out condoms is crossing the line for kids that young.’’

The School Committee will probably meet Tuesday to discuss possible changes, Grosso said. But he said he would not support limiting the condoms to the high school.

“Not at all,’’ he said. “It’d have to go lower than that, because we all know kids are sexually active before high school. I’d say we’ll keep fifth- and sixth grade’’ in the free condom program.

School Committee member Carrie Notaro said that while she prefers the current policy, she is willing to compromise.

“If parents are that upset, and we have to revise it to fifth- and sixth-graders, then that would be fine with me,’’ said Notaro, who has a preschooler and a second-grader in the elementary school.

Notaro said she is undecided about the parental provision, but Grosso said he will vote against giving parents a say. “If they’re going to go get a condom,’’ he said, “they’re not going to ask their parents anyway.’’

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, said for those children who decide to have sex at a young age, at least Provincetown schools are encouraging them to take precautions.

Children alone decide “when they become sexually active, and we can’t control that,’’ she said. “But we can ensure that when they’re making those decisions, there are caring adults and support present.’’

Reville said the state cannot regulate school condom programs. But he said it does suggest guidelines, that the policy is restricted to high schools and that parents can opt to have their children not participate.

“We feel strongly that those communities that have elected to do this have adhered to those guidelines,’’ Reville said.

Notaro said that when the School Committee unanimously passed the policy June 8, the intent was to provide condoms to older students.

The possibility that younger students would request the condoms was not considered, because it was unrealistic, she said.

Asked what she would do if her second-grade son came home with a condom, she said: “I wouldn’t overreact. I guess I would ask him where did he get it and how did he get it.’’

Jack Nicas can be reached at jnicas@globe.com.

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