With school starting next Tuesday, two elected officials are calling for condoms to be made available in all public Montgomery County high schools and middle schools in an effort to lower the risk of students contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Earlier this month Montgomery County Health Officials alerted the County to the rise in Sexually Transmitted Infections among teens and young adults in the County. On Tuesday, democratic Councilmember George Leventhal and former democractic Council candidate and current Board of Education member Jill Ortman-Fouse sent a letter to MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith, Uma Ahluwalia, Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Travis Gayles, County Health Officer asking for more information on DHHS' plans to distribute contraceptives at wellness centers at four MCPS schools.
On August 8, County Health Officials report that there has been a marked increase in the incidence of sexually transmitted infections, particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea, among adolescents and young adults between ages 15 to 29 in Montgomery County. Health officials are recommending a comprehensive strategy that includes prevention, screening and treatment recommendations aimed at this group.
Data from 2017 shows chlamydia cases rose by eight percent and gonorrhea cases rose by 13 percent from 2016. The data shows the highest levels in Montgomery County in 10 years for both STIs. These increases are consistent with national trends compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a public health crisis and while this mirrors national trends, it is critical that we provide prevention information so that adolescents and young adults can make safe decisions,” said Dr. Travis Gayles, County health officer.
In 2017, there were 4,029 cases of chlamydia, 66.7 percent of which were female cases. Data from 2017 shows a 17.5 percent increase in overall chlamydia cases in Montgomery County, compared to a nine percent increase in Maryland. Data from 2017 shows there were 726 cases of gonorrhea, 69.8 percent of which were male cases. Data for 2017 shows a 29 percent increase in gonorrhea cases in Montgomery County, compared to a 15 percent increase in Maryland. In 2017, there were 50 cases of primary and secondary syphilis, a 51.5 percent increase from 2016, and 144 cases of early syphilis, an 84.6 percent increase from 2016.
To combat the increase in sexually transmitted infections among young people in the County, DHSS plans to make contraception, such as condoms, available at high school wellness centers, at locations throughout the county and at Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) clinics. The wellness clinics within at high schools operated by DHHS, are located within Northwood, Wheaton, Gaithersburg and Watkins Mill high schools. There is also a wellness center planned for the new Seneca Valley High School which will be completed in summer of 2020.
In the memo sent this week, Leventhal and Ortman-Fouse reads in part, “We understand that the county’s Department of Health & Human Services intends to offer condoms to students at the four school-based wellness centers as part of a comprehensive strategy to address this public health crisis. However, we would like to see access expanded beyond these four schools to all high schools in the county as has been done in Baltimore City and Dorchester County. In addition, we would appreciate the assistance of your respective agencies in assessing the feasibility of extending this resource to middle schools, either through targeted distribution or by making them generally available at all middle schools.”
The memo calls for the expansion of access to contraceptives at all county high schools, citing precedents in Baltimore City and Dorchester County, and requests feasibility studies for the implementation of similar programs in middle schools. It cites studies which demonstrate that contraceptive distribution programs lead to lower rates of sexual activity and better health outcomes.
“We recognize the sensitivities surrounding issues related to sexual health and making contraceptives available at schools,” read the memo, “For this reason, we feel it is important for HHS and Montgomery County Public Schools to allay the concerns of parents, teachers and students who may have reservations about the introduction of condoms into schools. There is a perception among some that the provision of condoms in schools will lead to increased sexual activity among youth. The relationship between the availability of condoms and sexual behavior has been extensively studied over the last few decades, and the overwhelming majority of data suggest that the opposite is true.”
“As stewards of children, we have a moral obligation to create an environment that meets not only their educational, but their physical and medical needs as well,” read the memo. “Parents entrust the County to nurture their children’s minds and bodies, and we would be doing them a disservice if we did not make every effort to provide these sexual health resources to every adolescent in the County. Untreated STIs can lead to serious long-term health consequences, especially for adolescents and young women. We acknowledge there are practical, as well as fiscal, challenges associated with greatly expanding access to condoms across the school system and are committed to working through them with you to ensure that we stop this alarming health trend in its tracks.”