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Maine School to Offer Contraceptives

"I think she could navigate the system," he said.

Portland's three middle schools had seven pregnancies in the last five years, said Douglas Gardner, director of Portland's Health and Human Services Department. He said early reports of 17 pregnancies during the last four years were erroneous.


Portland School Head Nurse Amanda Rowe speaks about a proposal that would allow students at King Middle School to obtain birth control prescriptions from the school's health center, during a School Committee meeting Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007, in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Joel Page)
Portland School Head Nurse Amanda Rowe speaks about a proposal that would allow students at King Middle School to obtain birth control prescriptions from the school's health center, during a School Committee meeting Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007, in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Joel Page) (Joel Page - AP)
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The King Middle School is among Portland's most diverse schools, with 31 languages spoken there and 28 percent of its students foreign-born. The school, located on the same peninsula as downtown Portland, draws from the islands in Casco Bay, wealthier neighborhoods overlooking the bay, and low-income triple deckers.

Fifty-four percent of the students are part of the federal free lunch program, which is an indicator of poverty.

Principal Michael McCarthy said the school had just one pregnancy last year, but students were reporting they were sexually active. The center has dispensed condoms since 2000, but because it could not prescribe birth-control pills, nurses referred the students to Planned Parenthood or Maine Medical Center.

"When they followed up, they found that in many cases, the kids weren't doing that," McCarthy said.

The policy raises new legal concerns.

Sex with a nonspousal minor under 14 is considered gross sexual assault in Maine, and officials said it was unclear whether nurses at the health center would be required to report such activities.

"If we're required to report anything that we think is illegal, we certainly will do that," said Gardner, who said health centers already comply with state law and report cases in which child abuse or sex abuse are suspected.

Gov. John Baldacci said he had reservations about the program and was trying to learn more.

"I appreciate local officials trying to address a need in a medically appropriate way, but these are children," he said in an interview with the AP. "An appropriate balance must be struck addressing the troubling situation that a small number of students find themselves in and recognizing the important role that parents and other family should play."

McCarthy, the principal, said he sympathizes with those who have reservations about the program.


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© 2007 The Associated Press