The advisory board to the Juneau Teen Health Center voted unanimously Wednesday night against recommending the school-based clinic dispense birth control.
"The services have proven to be very valuable to the community," said board member Mary Richmond, nurse manager at the Juneau Public Health Center. "It's truly not worth the struggle to alienate the good will of parents in the community, who have been supportive of the Teen Health Center."
Advisory board members instead agreed the center should provide more help for students who are sexually active, but they put off to future meetings what that help would be.
A poll during recent parent-teacher conferences showed 156 parents supported dispensing birth control and 123 opposed it. Nearly 100 polled parents said dispensing birth control would decrease their support for the center. Petitions at some local churches opposing it were signed by 240 people.
But a poll of 339 JDHS students, nearly equally spread between boys and girls, showed three-
quarters supported dispensing birth control, and two-thirds said it wouldn't send mixed messages about abstinence. About two-thirds of 71 surveyed teachers also favored dispensing birth control. And 35 of about 45 doctors at a recent Bartlett Regional Hospital staff meeting supported it.
The center is housed in the Marie Drake building, which serves in part as an annex to Juneau-Douglas High School. It is operated by the state Division of Public Health, the Southeast Regional Health Consortium, the city, Juneau Youth Services and the Juneau School District.
The center offers a variety of services to youths who have parental consent. Services include treating pregnant students and those with venereal diseases and prescribing birth control. Its policy is to counsel students to abstain from sex.
But the center has never dispensed birth control, such as condoms or the pill. Nurse practitioner and Juneau School Board member Deana Darnall, who works at the center, asked the advisory board to recommend to the operating agencies that it do so.
Darnall, who could not be reached immediately for comment, told the board in September that she has seen countless students who want to know if they have sexually transmitted diseases or are pregnant. Even after a long discussion about abstinence, they tell her they plan to remain sexually active and that they can't get to other clinics for contraceptives.
Mary Kyle, a parent on the advisory board, said Wednesday that dispensing birth control may prevent a few pregnancies, but she wondered how many more children would be sexually active and end up with sexually transmitted diseases.
She was concerned providing birth control at the high school would send the message to students: What's wrong with me if I'm not doing this?
Advisory board member Mark Roschy, who teaches in the CHOICE program for students who are at risk of dropping out, said he valued the ideal of abstinence but reminded the board of the "frustrating and sad" reality of sexually active students.
For example, some students won't go to the city's Zach Gordon Teen Center to get condoms, he said. "These silly reasons are real to a lot of those kids who aren't represented here."
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