Condoms for Kids

September had arrived, school was opening, and in Washington, D.C., the superintendent was fired up. There'll be "a lot of changes" this year, he told a back-to-school rally. We've got to prepare "youngsters to be successful in the 21st century." What was he referring to? Stronger academic programs? Tighter discipline? New computers? No, what the D.C. superintendent thinks students need is condoms. The District school system has decided to authorize school nurses to hand out condoms to any student who asks. The service is offered "confidentially," which means without informing the student's parents. When parents heard of the plan, they were outraged. Many requested an opt-out program to exempt their child. Initially the superintendent agreed, but he was overruled by the D.C. public health commissioner. No one will be allowed to "interfere" with the condom program, the commissioner thundered. No one will be allowed to disrupt what he called the "sacred" right of confidentiality between school nurse and student. And so this fall D.C. has officially decreed that the relationship between school and child is more sacred than the relationship between parent and child. Parents of course are required to pay with their taxes for this usurpation of their rights. Today D.C. teenagers can saunter into the nurse's office and pick out condoms in a variety of colors and flavors-all paid for by their parents' taxes. Mint-flavored green condoms are quite popular, district officials confided in a Washington Post interview. And for ethnic diversity, schools even offer Afrocentric brands, described by officials as "attractive to the African-American population." "We try to be attentive to the tastes and choices of our clients," they explained, sounding more like marketers than educators. Trivialities aside, what we're seeing played out in the office of the school nurse is a philosophical battle over who bears responsibility for children. Biblical teaching gives the primary responsibility to parents, with the support of the church community. Historically, schools were established as an extension of parent and church authority. But the rise of a public school system challenged all that. From the start, there have been social and political radicals who see the public school system as a way of reaching children directly with their political agenda. As one Princeton scholar puts it, "There is a struggle between the family and the state for the minds of the young." The public school system has become "the chief instrument" for state officials to make "a direct appeal to the children over the heads of their parents." This is the heart of the condom issue. D.C. Senator Florence Pendleton sees it clearly. She warns that the current policy "breaks down the family. It tells the child in a very explicit way that you don't have to do what your parents tell you." The condom issue is just one front in a larger battle over the role of the public school system. American schools are in the throes of being redefined: Are they going to be an extension parental authority-or an arm of the state? There is no middle ground.


Chuck Colson


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