Ask most students: the morning after a major test can be stressful until the results are known. The morning after sex—well, the New York City Department of Education has its own coping mechanism.
School nurses’ offices stocked with the contraceptives can dispense “Plan B” emergency contraception and other oral or injectable birth control to girls without telling their parents, unless parents opt out after getting a school informational letter about the new program.
The city calls it CATCH (Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Health), and it is an attempt to counteract the epidemic of teen pregnancy, which spurs many girls—most of them poor—to drop out of school.
While Big Apple high schools have long supplied free condoms to sexually active teens, this is the first time city schools have dispensed hormonal birth control and Plan B, which can prevent pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex.
It might be a nationwide first as well. The National Association of School Nurses could cite no other school district supplying Plan B.
The city has been hush-hush about the program, despite providing 567 students in five schools last year with Plan B tablets. Another 580 students received Reclipsen birth-control pills, the city Department of Health told the Post.
This fall, students can also get Depo-Provera, a birth-control drug injected once every three months, officials said.
According to the Post report:
Oral and injectable contraceptives require prescriptions, which, in the CATCH program, are written by Health Department doctors.
Plan B is typically sold as an over-the-counter medication, but those under age 18 need a prescription. For the CATCH program, students can tell a trained school nurse they had unprotected sex. The student will then get a test to see if she is already pregnant; if not, the prescription is issued and she can walk out with the pill.
The city expanded CATCH to 14 schools with more than 22,000 students in the past year. Officials dropped one, Seward Park Campus in lower Manhattan, because CATCH was overwhelming the medical office.
Parents at the 14 schools were sent letters informing them about CATCH. Parents may bar their kids from getting pregnancy tests or contraceptives if they sign and return an opt-out statement.
If they do not, schools can confidentially give the contraception without permission.
An average 1 to 2 percent of parents at each school have returned the opt-out sheets, said DOH spokeswoman Alexandra Waldhorn.
Last year, 7,000 girls under age 17 got pregnant citywide. Of those pregnancies, 90 percent were unplanned and 64 percent were aborted.
Alarmingly, 2,200 became moms by age 17 and, as a result, about 70 percent dropped out of school.
The Post report continues:
At the High School of Fashion Industries in Chelsea, where 85 percent of the students are girls, ninth-graders were told about CATCH at summer orientation. Some welcomed it.
“I don’t want to be a young kid who gets pregnant and can’t find a job,” one cautious freshman told the Post.
A 14-year-old pal agreed. “I would go to the nurse without telling my parents, and I would ask for help,” she said.
But sophomore Annette Palacios, 15, outside the school with her mom, said parents should give consent in case their children are “allergic” to the drugs.
“Girls shouldn’t be sexually active at that age,” she said.
Her mom, Pania, complained that she never got a no opt-out letter — and does not want Annette to secretly get Plan B or birth-control pills from the nurse.
“Parents should know if their daughter is pregnant,” she said.
Teacher Rosa Chavez applauded CATCH. She said she had two pregnant students last year. Getting knocked up, she said, “is not cool and not accepted among peers.”
However, Chavez worries that giving girls Plan B emergency contraception might encourage careless sex. “If they made a mistake, they could still do something about it,” she said.
About 28 percent of city students entering ninth grade have already had sex, and more than half are sexually active before completing high school, according to city data.
But some school insiders dislike the CATCH program’s lack of parental involvement and fear medical complications.
“We can’t give out a Tylenol without a doctor’s order,” said a school staffer. “Why should we give out hormonal preparations with far more serious possible side effects, such as blood clots and hypertension?”