Condoms in the Classroom: New Conversations about Health Education at Vermont Schools

Hinesburg, Vt. - Condoms in the classroom.

Vermont schools are having new conversations about sex education.

"Why would we not want to learn that kind of responsibility and to learn how to stay healthy," Sharonlee Trefry, a State School Nurse Consultant with the Vermont Department of Health, said.

The health department's Sharonlee Trefry, along with many other public health leaders, are helping to start conversations about condom availability in high schools.

In November, the department along with the Agency of Education, sent a letter encouraging schools across the state to include giving out condoms in their comprehensive sex education programs.

The letter asked school leaders to create plans that "meet the unique needs" of the "local communities."

"It will look different in every school. Some availability is in a vending machine, it might be counselors, school counselors' office," Trefry said.

The push for this stems from national data on STDs and teens. In 2015, the Center for Disease Control reported the "highest numbers ever" for STDs. Nearly two-thirds of the cases were 15 to 24 year olds. According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, only 58 percent of teens who were reportedly sexually active used condoms.

Trefry says students should know all the health and safety risks involved with being sexually active, kind of like driving a car.

"A seat belt doesn't make you a dangerous driver, it doesn't make you a race car driver, but if you're going to get in the car, you're going to put your seat belt on," Trefry said.

One school working on this is Champlain Valley Union in Hinesburg.

"Instead of me making that decision, or having a committee of adults making that decision, we've actually decided to engage our students," Principal Adam Bunting said.

Principal Bunting says students in their health classes are drafting up a proposal for this type of program. There are 4 health and wellness teachers at CVU, focused on "critical thinking" and discussing different "values."

"I think people have the perception that you're condoning the behavior. Even our students who have commented on it have said, if the school chooses to hand out condoms or provide free access to them, then we hope that there's some education that comes along with that," added Bunting.

Bunting says he hasn't heard feedback from parents about the idea, since everything is still very preliminary. The students' proposal will be shared with the community once it's ready.

Principal Bunting says the school hopes to have a plan for a condom availability program by the end of the school year, after the community and school officials take a look at the students' ideas.

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