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School backs off condom giveaway at the prom

Updated, May 30:

Last Friday, msnbc.com reported that a New York City school, Bedford-Stuyvesant Preparatory High School, had agreed to make condoms available to students at the school’s June 7 prom.

Now, apparently in reaction to some opposition, principal Darryl Rascoe has changed those plans.

The school will still hold an assembly on June 5, sponsored by condom maker NV Healthcare. Plans for an essay contest on the value of safe sex and healthy relationships are also unchanged, and the company will provide 500 condoms to the school.

But those condoms will not be distributed at prom, according to a company spokesperson. Instead, they will enter the school’s normal distribution pattern to be made available to students before prom.   

Calls to Rascoe’s office for comment on the reasons for the change of plans were directed New York City’s school headquarters. Department of Education spokesperson Margie Feinberg said she didn’t know why Rascoe had altered the program. But she affirmed that he had the authority to allow the condom distribution.

“We said it was fine as long as the condoms are in a separate room, and he has written parental consent,” she said. “We do provide condoms according to our HIV/Aids curriculum in high school, so if he wants to do it at prom, that’s fine.”

Original story:

Prom season is packed with choices for high school students -- which dress, which tuxedo, which music, which flowers? This year, students in at least one high school will have one more choice to make: whether or not to pick up a condom or two on their way out the door.  

Bedford-Stuyvesant Preparatory High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. will make 500 condoms available at the school’s June 7 prom.

“As they leave the prom, they are welcome to it,” school principal Darryl Rascoe said in an interview. “We are not forcing it on anybody, but we want them to have that option.”

Worries about underage drinking or risky sex on prom night have prompted scores of prevention programs at schools around the country, from scheduling the event on weeknights to chaperoned after-parties.  

But handing out free condoms as part of the festivities is a wrong move, says Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, an advocacy group that resists comprehensive sex education in schools. “We are concerned that the distribution of condoms on school campuses further normalizes teen sex,” she told msnbc.com via email.

Principal Rascoe says he’s unaware of any opposition to the prom condom plan.

Bedford-Stuyvesant Prep, a small, “transfer” school of about 130 students which teens attend after having had academic, disciplinary, or other difficulties elsewhere, conducts safe sex forums and already distributes condoms through sex education initiatives. Other New York City high school allow students to request free condoms as part of HIV/AIDS prevention programs. The Brooklyn school also houses one of New York City Schools’ “Lyfe” (Living for the Young Family through Education) centers, a day-care facility for the young children of current students.

So when NV Healthcare, which manufactures NuVo branded condoms, offered to supply some for prom, Rascoe viewed it as just an extension of what the school already does. The Brooklyn school’s parent coordinator notified parents about the safe-sex prom program “and that, during prom, things happen,” Rascoe said.  

That’s why senior Shaquana Brown agrees with the move. “It’s a great idea,” she said in an interview. “You know, there are after parties and stuff” where students might find themselves in a sexual situation they didn’t anticipate. She also thinks the fact that there’ll be context around the condom availability will help students make smart choices.

The prom condom distribution plan will be accompanied by a safe sex school assembly sponsored by the condom maker a few days before the prom. An essay contest on the topic of safe sex will be judged by the school’s English department.

NuVo has made a similar prom condom offer to other schools, although Bedford-Stuyvesant Prep is the only taker so far. The one-year-old company hopes the marketing stunt gets "the positive aspects of condom use out there," vice-president Ben Isaacs explained.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “schools should be considered appropriate sites for the availability of condoms, because they contain large adolescent populations and may potentially provide a comprehensive array of related educational and health care resources.”

For the Brooklyn school's principal, the prom condom plan is about the future of teenagers. Though students may have had trouble at other settings, Rascoe said, the “first thing that should roll off your tongue when you say Bed-Stuy Prep is college. We are trying to prepare you for college and for life.”

Getting pregnant, he said “is self-sabotage. It makes it more difficult to move forward and life becomes a struggle.”

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