By Stephanie Simon
(Reuters) - Students at all Boston public high schools may soon be able to obtain free condoms at the front office - as long as they sit through a few minutes of counseling about safe sex - under a policy due to be voted on Wednesday by the school board.
Condoms are already available in 19 high schools with on-site health centers. The policy, up for a vote by the Boston School Committee, would expand distribution to all 32 high schools in the system.
Parents would have the right to exempt their children.
Several U.S. urban districts, including New York and Los Angeles, make condoms widely available in high schools. So do many suburban school districts around Boston.
The proposed expansion in Boston would not cost the district anything since the condoms are donated by public health agencies, district spokesman Lee McGuire said.
So far, it has drawn little opposition.
The Archdiocese of Boston issued a statement calling condom distribution "misguided," but has not organized formal protests. No one testified against the policy at a public hearing this month, and McGuire said he expected little controversy at the Wednesday vote.
Bill Albert, chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said parents often fear easy access to contraception will encourage teens to have sex earlier or more frequently. Studies have shown that isn't the case, he said.
"That is one they can cross off their worry list," Albert said. "The science is absolutely clear."
It's less clear, Albert said, whether students consistently practice safer sex when they have access to free condoms.
The condom policy is part of a broader wellness initiative in Boston schools, including expanded sex education, better nutrition and more physical activity for students.
(Reporting by Stephanie Simon; Editing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Gary Hill)