Parents, students, and health care workers were present at last week’s school committee meeting to voice their concerns surrounding the Lynn Community Health Center Contraception Availability Proposal. The topic arose last spring, when the Lynn Community Health Center approached Lynn Public Schools, demonstrating a plan to make birth control pills, condoms, and Depo-Provera, a contraceptive injection, available to high school students.
The committee agreed to approve the plan with the stipulation that the parental consent form is updated and an administration rollout plan is developed. Currently, the Community Center is only allowed to educate students and send them back to the main health center where they can get more information. With the plan adopted, the health center staff will be able to offer birth control and condoms after a student is thoroughly interviewed. Parents can opt in or out on the consent form that will be sent home.
After receiving parent and community feedback over the past few months, the committee was armed with knowledge on the topic, and prepared to tackle appropriate questions. One of the major concerns from parents and committee members was the promotion of birth control.
“We aren’t just handing out condoms from a fishbowl in our office, we are educating students on healthy relationships,” said Julie Chan, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who work for the Community Center at Lynn Tech. “We encourage them to ask their parents first, talk to their families and doctor, if that doctor is not one of our staff members.”
During the decision making process, the Community Center staff goes through the students’ medical history, past medications, family medical history, as well as educating them on healthy relationships.
“We go through the pros and cons of what they decide and we assess for healthy relationships. Safety is the first priority and we make sure that they don’t feel like they are being guilted into having sexual intercourse. The conversation always starts about where they are learning about relationships from and hopefully, they are getting this information from their parents and not from movies, television and the internet.”
Chan clarified that the visit is not a simple 15-minute interview, and instead, it takes several hours and even days to assess a student for safety and readiness.
“When a child approaches us and they are already sexually active, that is when we feel the need to keep them safe by providing them with birth control and condoms. They are already doing these things and they are asking us for help with protection of pregnancy or STDs.”
In the month of September alone, Chan witnessed 21 cases of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease. Last year there were 57 pregnant minors in Lynn, 12 percent of which were second pregnancies.
Chan confirmed that the parents are contacted if she feels that there is a safety risk.
“I have called parents when a kid has asked me to help them talk to their parents about these services,” she said. “We try to encourage these things. We are encouraging these kids to be adults, to come to school on time, to do their homework, all these things. And when we tell them that we are not allowed to give them birth control, we are creating a roadblock for them.”
Another major concern of parents is the side effects of birth control pills on students who have allergies or are on other medications.
In most cases, the student’s Primary Care Provider (PCP) is a staff member of the Community Health Center, and electronic records can be checked to review other medications or allergies. In the event that the PCP is outside of the network, staff members call the PCP with the student’s consent.
“There are very few contraindications to birth control,” said Medical Team Lead for the School-Based Health Center Program, Linda Galligani. “If the child is unclear on their medical history, we call their out-of-network PCP to answer any questions, and in the majority of cases, the students have no problem with us doing this and they are typically in the room with us when we call their doctor. We will also conduct checkbacks to see if the student has any side effects.”
Another major concern of the program is the clarity of the consent form.
“I want to make sure that everyone is aware of what we are going to offer in our schools,” said school committee member, Michael Satterwhite, who shared that he is the brother of a teen parent. “I’d like to see the family planning portion of this communicated on the consent form that gets sent home. Sex is an adult thing that comes with emotions and baggage, so I want to be sure we are sending accurate information home and conveying this to the parents.”
Currently, there are eight full service school based health centers in the Lynn Schools, staffed with behavioral health counselors, medical nurse practitioners, and professionals qualified to prescribe medication. Last year, the community center conducted 9,000 visits with students, dispersed 3,000 immunizations, and immunized 1,300 students. The majority of students go to the community center to visit their Primary Care Physicians (PCP) for regular visits, saving parents both work and travel time. The Community Health Center cares for 42,000 Lynn residents and is present in 17 of the community’s schools. There are 50 staff members who serve the full medical team that works in the schools, providing a professional level of care that is credentialed at both the state and federal level.
Prior to the plan being put into effect, parents, teachers and students can get more information regarding healthy relationships at: https://kidshealth.org/.