With remarkable boldness, New York City has begun a program to make contraceptives and morning-after pills available to female students in 13 high schools without parental permission. The intentions are good, but the implementation needs work.
Almost 40 percent of public high school students are sexually active, according to statistics from the city's Health Department. Ninety percent of teen pregnancies are unintended, and more than 7,000 girls in New York City will become pregnant by age 17.
Health officials see the initiative as a way to improve a situation that could have lifelong consequences.
Unfortunately, they're going about it the wrong way. At the moment, they're asking parents with objections to opt out of the program. But how do parents even know the program exists? Health officials say they get out the word at events like parent-teacher meetings or freshman orientation and by sending letters home in student backpacks.
But here's the problem: Only 1 to 2 percent of parents have chosen to opt out of the pilot program. That's an astonishingly small proportion for an issue so fraught with emotional, religious, health and family issues. Health department officials say they're making "every effort" to inform parents and build redundancy into their outreach. Maybe so, but the tiny number of opt-outs creates more than a little doubt about their effectiveness.
Better would be an opt-in program -- a policy that limits the emergency morning- after pill and hormonal contraception to students whose parents have given their explicit consent.
The schools are overstepping when they -- in tandem with health officials -- can so easily make decisions that parents ought to make.
Schools everywhere struggle to build better relationships between teachers and parents. That's because teachers are more effective when parents amplify their message at home. It's hard to imagine a program that subverts parental trust more than the morning-after initiative.
It's good news that 13 schools in the city's system have nurses, physicians, social workers and staffers from the Condom Availability Program standing by to help students who need their services. But the issues at stake here are huge. Mom and Dad need to know what's going on -- unless they say otherwise.