Parents and school officials are preparing to battle tonight in a debate about the sexual health of children at one Maine school district.
Administrators at a Portland middle school are considering a bold proposal that would allow students to access a broader range of contraceptives from the school's health center.
King Middle School's health center already provides condoms as part of its reproductive health program, implemented after five of the 135 students who visited the center last year reported being sexually active.
Prescriptions for birth control pills and patches would be included in the new measure, which has become a lightning rod for controversy in the area.
"We do certainly sit down and speak with them about why that's not a good choice," said Portland's school nurse coordinator Amanda Rowe of sexually active students. "But there are some who persist, even though we don't like to think about that in being sexually active, and they need to be protected."
The school's female students are in grades six to eight and range from ages 11 to 13.
"It will provide a means of making sure you don't get pregnant and ruin your school career and limit yourself in the future," Rowe said.
The students will need a parent's written permission to access any services provided, but they would not have to disclose which service they receive, a point of contention for some.
"They are sending mixed messages. In the state of Maine it is illegal to have sex under the age of 14," said cable talk show host and ABC News commentator Glen Beck on "Good Morning America" today. "You are enabling people."
Beck argued that the plan makes it too easy for girls to have sex and takes power away from the parent, a sentiment some parents agree with.
"I don't think I would want my child in middle school to be getting birth control pills unless I had something to do with it," one woman said.
But others said they believe the proposal is a good idea because some parents feel uncomfortable in the role of sexual educator.
"Parents should be the sex educator for their children," said sexologist and relationship expert Logan Levkoff on "Good Morning America" today. "The problem is not every parent feels empowered [to do so]."
One mother said she believed the idea may be on the right track.
"I think that education at that age is appropriate because our culture is saturated with messages about sex," the woman said.