BUFFALO, N.Y. - One of the region's largest school districts is beginning a controversial program this week. Beginning Monday, the public schools in the City of Rochester are giving away free condoms to high school students.
Faced with a high number of teens either getting pregnant or infected with HIV, Rochester has decided to offer as many as 10 condoms a day to its high school students. The program is controversial, but hundreds of districts nationwide have tried it.
According to the Erie County Health Commissioner, Dr. Gale Burstein, between 2008-2010, girls between 15-17 years old, the pregnancy rate was high. There were 1,666 pregnant teens. In In Monroe County the number was a little less 1,555. Keep in mind, the population is higher in Erie County.
Dr. Will Keresztes, Associate Superintendent for Educational Services in Buffalo applauded Rochester for taking a "courageous step." He says the Buffalo School district "is aware of about 200 youth, 21 and under in the city of buffalo in any given year that are either pregnant or already parenting.
Some wonder whether Buffalo should at least consider it.
"We have to be realistic about these kinds of things," said Councilmember Dave Franczyk, who believes it is at least time for a city-wide discussion about condoms in schools.
While Franczyk said he wants more data before taking a position on condoms in schools, a 2011 survey of Buffalo Public School students offered some eye-opening numbers.
According to the survey, 15.8% of middle school students in Buffalo reported being sexually active, and 22% of them said they didn't use condoms. Among high schoolers, more than half are having sex (51.1%), which is 20 percent above the state average. More than 30% of them also said they don't regularly use condoms.
Last fall, New York City went as far as providing students the morning-after pill. At the time, the Director of Health for the Buffalo Schools told us that wouldn't happen here.
"But I can see availability of condoms in the future, if that's what our students and our parents want," said Assunta Ventresca, who is the Health Director for the Buffalo Public Schools.
Franczyk said those discussions should begin soon.
"Asking questions and raising issues should always be done, whether they seem unpopular or not, if they can help a community in a certain way," Franczyk said. "I can't tell you if that works or not, but I think we should -- they should -- certainly talk about it. We are talking about it, and we should (be)."