At a routine meeting Wednesday, June 19th, the Boston School Committee voted 5-0 (with one member abstaining) to implement a new wellness policy that will ensure increased health and well-being to both the staff and students of all 135 of Boston’s public schools. The most circulated portion of this policy thus far has been the decision to provide the students of all of Boston’s 23 public high schools with condoms. Joining the ranks of school districts like New York and Philadelphia, Boston will now make condoms accessible to every public high school student, unless a parent or guardian opts them out of the program in the standard paperwork given out at the beginning of each school year.
Rather than simply providing the condoms no-questions-asked, a student will be required to talk with a nurse or clinic employee before receiving them to ensure that he or she understands how they are used and how to remain safe. Although teen pregnancy rates in Boston are lower than the national average and overall on the decline, the School Committee and those speaking in favor of the policy’s expansion cite the high rates of chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases among 15 to 19 year olds as a key concern.
Although by far the most widely reported change in the policy, the six-page report details a number of crucial health initiatives that will undoubtedly make the Boston Public School system a more inclusive and supportive community. As stated in the “Safe and Supportive Schools” section, the policy seeks to address “social health, emotional health, mental health, behavioral health, physical health, suicide prevention, safe inclusion climates for LGBTQ students, violence prevention, including intimate partner violence, sexual harassment & assault prevention, bullying & cyber bullying prevention, emergency preparedness, school safety, substance use, and
pregnant and parenting students.”
The policy will address issues of crucial concern to Boston youth, such as bullying, LGBTQ inclusion and violence prevention; these issues are often ignored by other school districts. As Superintendent Carol Johnson stated, healthy students are better students. By focusing on making the school system a safe, healthy, inclusive, and welcoming environment, students will be free to focus on their schoolwork and educational development and have reprieve from issues like violence, discrimination, and mental health.
The wellness policy will be achieved by implementing the Comprehensive Behavioral Health Model, a Boston Public School program which includes community partners specializing in mental health as well as the Boston Public Health Commission. It promotes both a school and district-wide prevention and education initiative as well as provisions for crisis intervention, oneon-one counseling, and “case-specific parental training.” Should it prove effective, this health policy, including its emphasis on inclusive sexual health education, could serve as a model for school districts throughout the nation and increase achievement in the Boston Public Schools.
1.Full draft of the District Wellness Policy
2. Comprehensive Behavioral Health Model website
3. “Condoms & Counseling: Improved Sexual Education for Boston Public Schools,” Caroline Lyle
4. “Boston Public Schools Will Distribute Condoms in All High Schools,” Susan Jones
5. “Condoms Now Available At Your Local High School,” Melissa Malamut