MONTPELIER, Vt. – A Vermont law that requires middle schools and high schools to provide access to free condoms has generated nationwide attention.
Vermont is the first state to require access to condoms in schools, and the law is intended to help prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated only 7.2 percent of high schools and 2.3 percent of middle schools in the U.S. made condoms available to students.
In October, the Vermont Agency of Education released guidance for schools on the new law, which was passed in July with Governor Phil Scott’s signature. The guidance said “condoms should be available in locations that are safe and readily accessible for students,” including the school nurse and health offices, athletic trainers, guidance counselors and specific teachers.
Then and now, some groups have expressed concern. The Vermont Right to Life Committee submitted testimony last June, citing concerns about parents’ rights.
“Parents have no idea that bowls of condoms are going to be placed potentially in the nurses office and potentially in the bathroom,” Executive Director Mary Beerworth. “We’re concerned it’s a subtle endorsement of early sexual activity.”
According to the Vermont Department of Health 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 40 percent of high school students responding anonymously said they were sexually active. Some districts had already offered free condoms, said Lucy Leriche, Vice President of Vermont Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
“In some cases, we had students who advocated to school boards to create a condom availability policy,” she said.
After the bill was first introduced in January 2020, Vermont lawmakers spent months gathering feedback from principals, school nurses, the Agency of Education and the Department of Health.
CDC research showed that condom access programs in high schools do not increase sexual activity among teens and can increase condom use among sexually active students and students at high risk, but Beerworth was particularly concerned about their availability in middle schools.
Prior to the law, Rep. Ann Pugh noted there had already been similar recommendations made by the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education.
“The Agency of Education has, for many years, had as one of their educational standards a requirement that schools provide comprehensive health education which will include everything from exercise and nutrition to healthy and age appropriate sexual behavior,” Rep. Pugh said.