This fall, the District of Columbia will begin offering tests for sexually transmitted diseases to all of its public high school students, expanding a pilot program that uncovered a significant amount of infected teenagers, the Washington Post reports.
What D.C. school officials are doing is nothing new—school systems in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Baltimore, among others, either perform screenings for STDs or are preparing pilot programs—but the testing program is a vital step in the city's effort to arrest its growing AIDS rate, which is the highest in the nation. AIDS activists are particularly concerned about STDs because they increase the risk of contracting HIV.
The program will require students to attend a lecture about STDs and will give them the option to provide a urine sample for the test. The tests will be administered by taking groups of students to the restroom area with paper bags containing urine collection cups. Students can choose whether or not to give urine samples upon entering the stalls, and then return with the paper bags, so other students do not necessarily know who provided a sample and who did not.
Also, it is not required for parents to be informed if students receive a positive diagnosis (or simply elect to take the test). This is a bone of contention for some critics, who say parents need to be involved.
"If you play sports in public school, you have to get permission from your parents. If you take a field trip, you have to get permission from your parents. Why would it be any less for this?" asks William Lockridge, a member of the State Board of Education representing D.C.'s Ward 8, the Post reported.
Others take the position that while young people might not be ready for the consequences of engaging in sex, the fact is that they are.
In the pilot program conducted last year at eight Washington high schools, 13 percent of about 3,000 students tested positive for an STD, mostly gonorrhea or chlamydia. "This very high STD rate is an indication that what we've been doing is not effective," says Walter Smith, executive director of D.C. Appleseed, which advocates for better AIDS outreach and education in schools.
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