Health Educator Uses Loophole To Give Kids Condoms

CondomSAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – In Stockton 15-year-old Curtis Johnson learned about it from watching movies.
Ruben Alvarez III, 18, discovered a lot from friends growing up in Manteca.
And 13-year-old Danielle Gibson? The Stockton girl knows what she knows from embarrassing talks with her mother.
Most kids know about sex. Some learn about it in the classroom, where state and school district rules have adults keeping keen watch on what’s being taught. In San Joaquin County, condoms aren’t available on school grounds, because many parents say distributing contraceptives is like giving kids the OK to have sex.
Delta Health Care, however, has found a way around the rule.
Dawn Keithley, health educator and outreach coordinator for Delta, said part of her job is making sure teens have access to the information and contraception they need. When she’s at a school talking with kids, no condoms change hands.
But when the final school bell rings, Keithley simply walks to a nearby business, a big, pink bag full of condoms in tow. One by one, teens in the know make their way across the street to get contraception forbidden on campus.
Sometimes, Keithley will inform teens on MySpace.com that she will be at a local concert with “the big, pink bag.” Word travels quickly among teens who would otherwise not purchase condoms out of embarrassment or fear their parents would learn they’re sexually active. The health educator is unabashed about what she does and doesn’t see it as breaking school rules.
“It’s part of my job in outreach,” she says, “to go places where kids are and give them what they need.”
There is no age limit in California on condom sales.
California Education Code requires schools to begin lessons on abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention in seventh grade. At least once in middle school and once in high school, all students must learn about HIV/AIDS risk and prevention.
Providing contraceptive devices is not part of the state requirement, nor is it directly in defiance of the Education Code. Schools in Stockton and Lodi, however, prohibit condom distribution on school grounds.
“Staff are not carrying contraceptives to give to students,” said Odie Douglas, Associate Superintendent for Lodi Unified School District. “It’s against our practice. That’s not something we’re doing at all.”
Delta, which recently announced it would close its Stockton clinic, has education centers at Stagg and Edison high schools. There Delta staff supplement regular sex-education classes by giving presentations on self-esteem, communication and how to refuse partners who may be pressuring them into having sex.
That kind of instruction is in accordance with Stockton Unified School District board policy, facilitator Deanna Staggs said.
“It’s taking it beyond anatomy and physiology,” Staggs added. “The schools teach them how the body works; we take that a step further by giving them decision-making skills.”
Ruben Alvarez Sr. said he’s not sure he would want condoms available in school bathrooms or where kids could simply take them. He would be open, however, to a qualified adult, counselor or licensed nurse distributing them in an educational environment.
His wife, Rosemarie, a Manteca labor and delivery nurse, said she’s seen enough teen mothers to know most kids aren’t practicing the abstinence taught in schools. Their son, Ruben III, said teens are more than aware of how and where to get condoms and contraception on their own, regardless of availability on campus.
Whether giving kids condoms is consenting to teen sex is a dilemma for both parents and school districts, said Robert Brownell, a psychologist’s assistant at Kaiser Permanente.
Brownell helps run the Parent Project, a support program for parents of behaviorally at-risk youths. When it comes to sex education, he adds, adults need to be consistent with the messages they’re giving their teens so youths aren’t learning misinformation somewhere else.
“Sexuality in general is a part of everybody’s life,” he said. “As teens get older, you need to open the door to that conversation.”
Stockton mother Veronica Gibson didn’t let the fact that daughter Danielle was only in eighth grade keep her from talking openly about boys, dating and sexuality. It was uncomfortable, Danielle admitted with a smile lined in braces, but when she sees friends dating, she’s glad she was schooled.
“You do that if you don’t know,” she said of her classmates at Fremont Middle School. “Since I know, it’s scary.”
from The Record

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