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Posted at 12:31 PM ET, 08/10/2009

STD Tests at High School?

By Stephen Stromberg

Celia Maxwell

There is broad agreement among District educators and health officials that testing high school students for sexually transmitted diseases is a good idea ["D.C. to Offer STD Tests in Every High School," front page, Aug. 5]. But should the District conduct this testing, and provide for follow-up treatment, without telling parents when their children have an STD?


True, parents' permission is required for such school-sponsored activities as sports and field trips, but this is different. Notably, all 50 states and the District allow minors older than 12 to be screened for STDs without parental consent. But this policy shouldn't be driven by legalities alone. Instead, it should be rooted in the cost of not being sufficiently diligent.

Surveys tell us that a majority of high school students engage in sexual activity, much of it unprotected, despite what some parents believe. This can have particularly dire consequences for our children and community. The District has by far the nation's highest HIV/AIDS rate. While curbing treatable STDs such as gonorrhea is vital, changing reckless behavior and preventing deadly HIV/AIDS infections is imperative.

While parents won't automatically be told the results of STD tests, they will be able to have their children opt out of the program in advance. But I hope that as they consider their children's best interest, they will embrace this intervention. I know that when my daughter entered college at 17, and despite my excellent relationship with her, I would have wanted someone to intercede, even without my knowledge, to protect her from any self-destructive behavior I might not have known about.

That said, the District can't win this struggle to alter our children's sexual behavior without parents. Parents should be included early on in the educational process. They should be invited to the schools to learn how to talk to their children about avoidance of an early sexual debut and about safe sex, as well as to be counseled to lead by example.

We need everybody in this fight.

The writer is assistant vice president for health sciences, director of the Women's Health Institute and associate professor of medicine in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Howard University.

By Stephen Stromberg  | August 10, 2009; 12:31 PM ET
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