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 I will not fail

I am a go getter.  As Stephen Sondheim so eloquently put it in his classic musical Into The Woods, I “know what I want and I go and I find it and I get it.”  But this time, at least for now, I didn’t succeed.  Let me explain.  With the support of my local Planned Parenthood and its Youth Action Council, I drafted a letter to the district School Board asking for a revision to the current district policy regarding condom access in high schools.  The policy currently states that students may only receive condoms from their school health centers if they already carry a sexually transmitted infection.  A preposterous policy, I know. 

Before we presented this letter to the Board, however, my advisor and the other head honchos at Planned Parenthood advised me to seek advice from a Board member whom we expected would support us.  So today, confident as usual but a little bit nervous, I drove across town and stepped into her office at 10 am on a rainy Sprink Break Wednesday to try to make change happen.  Twenty minutes later, I stepped out, frustration pulsing through my nostrils and fingertips, and welling in my eyes.

The timing was all wrong, she said.  She was impressed with our action and commitment, she told me, and the letter was well written.  But (she laid the blow), it would be unadvisable to risk crossing the School Board by weighing them down with yet another issue when they already faced unprecedented and heart-wrenching budget cut decisions.

Ok, I reasoned.  But would making condoms available in four high schools really cost the district that much?  After all, the condoms are already there in the health centers; the nurses just aren’t given the prerogative to distribute them freely.  No, she responded, the cost of the condoms doesn’t lie at the heart of the issue.  She likened it to a recent community uproar over whether or not teachers should have access to soft drinks in vending machines if students were prohibited from buying “junk food” on school grounds.  What??  Then she backtracked, recognizing that condom access in high schools was a “more serious issue” than soft drink purchases.  And yeah, sure, I get it: the School Board is reluctant to pile up its plate when it has already had its fill of inflammatory, high stress agenda items in the budget crisis windfall of the economic downturn.  The truth is, though, there will always be something “more important” or “less pressing” than making condoms easily available in school based health centers.  Fifty girls in one day will never go up to the School Board and say, “Hey, guess what, I got Chlamydia because I didn’t have access to condoms and couldn’t afford to go to the store and buy them.”   My school will not likely have a sudden burst of teen pregnancies, or any other sort of wake up call that will force administrators and elected officials to take on leadership roles in the pursuit of increased sexual health in schools.  The time will never be perfectly ripe, and so why not now?

I do believe that she meant well.  She kept the copy of the letter that I wrote and said that she would show it to the district superintendent as well as some other school board members.  She said that she would gauge their responses, but for now, she consoled me, I would just have to wait until next year when the budget legislation gets settled.  Indeed, she encouraged me and tried to hearten me with praise for “youth who are trying to make change for what they think is necessary.”  I don’t want to try.  This is what being an activist is about, my supervisor at Planned Parenthood told me.  I want to make change.  And I will.

Here is my plan of action:

-       First, I’ll write a follow up email to the School Board official with whom I met to thank her, inform her of my intention to pursue our goal in a way that will be beneficial to both district students and the School Board.  I will ask her to pass on the letter and my concerns to fellow Board members, and I will ask for their names so I can follow up with them.

-       Second, I will contact a local school based health center nurse in order to hopefully collaborate with her on our condom campaign.

-       Third, I will contact other School Board members and district officials, and press them on the issue.

-       Fourth, I will begin an online to petition to gather support from students, parents, and concerned community adults.

Wish me luck!

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