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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Full Service Education

Administrators at Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa, California believe students are going to have sex whether parents like it or not. For that reason, Elsie Allen is the first high school in America to establish conjugal visit rooms on school grounds, thus making it possible for students to have sex on campus. But not just any kind of sex — no, safe sex, with condoms and other birth control services available at a health clinic on school grounds. Full disclosure: the first paragraph is made up. It’s a complete fabrication, but the second is entirely accurate. Elsie Allen is a real public school (the taxpayer-supported kind) whose real students can purchase real condoms, morning-after pills, and Depo-Provera, not far from the vending machines that dispense real Snapple and Doritos. A special interest group is up in arms. The group is comprised of decidedly old-fashioned people called parents. "Putting contraceptives in the middle of a campus seems foolish,'' Lindann McPheeters told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. McPheeters, the parent of a recent graduate of Elsie Allen High School, added: "This is not a social institution, this is an educational institution.” Well. Elsie Allen senior Erica Blengino, a supporter of the plan to make birth control available on campus, begs to differ. She told the Santa Rosa school board about a friend and classmate who last year became pregnant and ultimately chose to have an abortion. "If we'd had birth control at our school, she would not have had to have gone through an abortion," Blengino said. Critics might say the student (and her male partner) had another option, namely not to engage in the kinds of extracurricular activities that give birth control devices their functional reputation. But that response is not inappropriate because (all together now, in unison): “That would be judgmental, and who are we to judge?” So, let’s be sophisticated instead. Since we’re sure our high school aged kids are going to have sex — sure enough to want to provide access to contraceptives within walking distance of home room — shouldn't we extend the “they’re-going-to-do-it” premise to its logical conclusion? Why don’t we set up the previously fictional conjugal meeting rooms on school grounds? Without such facilities, students might be forced to retreat to the back seats of cars in the school parking lot during lunch breaks. Monday back seats, Tuesday back alleys, Wednesday back to the twelfth century. That’s the message we want to send our kids? What good is a condom if you don't have a safe place to use it? Lindann McPheeters thinks these are not the right questions. With due respect, apparently she doesn’t understand that we’re dealing with a four-letter word that we can’t just ignore. That word is need. High school students “need” birth control services on campus, says Delgado. “Those who don't need the help, that's fine ... but don't stop those who do need it from getting it. Let's prevent before we lament." Oh, surely no lamenting. Only positive energy will keep us focused on the larger work. In that regard, I’ve been asked to announce that the Task Force on Cultural Suicide and the Celebrate Diversity Campaign will hold a joint meeting next Thursday at the recreation center. Bring a dish (something vegan-ish) and, as always, let's stay allergy-free. (Bobbi and Suzette: this means no perfumes. Mark and Jenny are both prone to hives, and as any kid will tell you: hives take all the fun out of sex. Compassion!)